Sunday, February 21, 2010

Abandoned Property in the City of Florence: Where are we one year later?

You may recall over a year ago, Florence City Mayor Stephen Wukela held a press conference, where he signed nine Rule to Show Cause petitions against abandoned/derelict properties within the city of Florence. It was February 6, 2009 to be exact. The photo to the left was taken at that event and as you can see, the Mayor's action was supported by 12th Circuit Solicitor Ed Clements III; the head of the City of Florence Codes Enforcement, Scotty Davis; City of Florence Police Chief Anson Shells and the City of Florence Fire Department Chief Randall Ostermann.

In today's Sunday edition of the Florence Morning News, Mayor Wukela has written an Op-Ed to inform city residents about what has been and what still needs to be done. As Mayor Wukela notes, there is good news and bad news in the campaign to rid the City of Florence of this problem. The good news is that since last February, the City has demolished 35 buildings and cleared 240 lots. (Remember, under the previous mayor, no buildings were demolished, because the city did not believe it had the authority to do so). The bad news, is there are still a ton of properties out there to address. As Scotty Davis remarked at that press conference a year ago, the City had already identified 2,426 properties. Addressing 275 of those properties is impressive, especially when you consider the utter inaction on this issue over the previous two decades. But in reality, it is a drop in the proverbial bucket.

In his Op-Ed, Mayor Wukela explains just how serious the problem is by pointing out that just a few weeks ago, city workers discovered the body of a Florence woman missing since 2006. The workers discovered the decomposing body while demolishing the abandoned home. Is there a better example of how serious this problem is?

And this is a problem that hits all areas of Florence. Sure, if you ride through north or east Florence, you are going to see that those areas are the most afflicted with this blight.

Abandoned homes like the one to the right litter those neighborhoods and provide clubhouses and havens for gangs and hoodlums. Hiding places for drugs and guns. Makeshift graves for victims of violence.

But it's not just those neighborhoods that deal with this issue. Ask the folks of Windemere what they think of this issue. Recognize the house to the left? How long did that behemoth sit on the curve of Meredith Drive in a state of perpetual "rebuilding?" As one friend of ours who has parents who live on Meredith Dr. have told me, the Windemere Mafia is 100% behind this issue.

In his Op-Ed, Mayor Wukela points out that after council has held ten (10) meetings on this issue, on Monday, City Council will finally release the new ordinances prepared by staff in a public hearing. You can actually view the proposed ordinances here. It would seem like a no-brainer, right? But while Mayor Wukela has sponsored these ordinances and some on council, through their public comments, seem to support the general purpose behind them, there is likely to be a movement to do what council so often seems to want to do with issues: defer. That would be lame. The issue has been discussed at least 10 times at meetings. Council members and some interested members of the public (such as developers and such) have had these proposed ordinances for over a month. Listen, it is time to fish or cut bait. Either you support tackling this issue or you do not. But the City can't keep waiting. The city's codes enforcement is out there everyday taking this issue on and they need to know what tools they are going to have at their disposal in this fight. There should be no one who is interested in this matter that does not have enough information to take a public stance on these ordinances. In our opinion, a vote to defer this is simply wanting a way out to not have to vote. And that's just weak.

Whichever way you feel on the issue, read those ordinances, then come up the City-County Complex tomorrow afternoon at 6pm and make your stance known.

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