Cleaning up many overgrown, unsightly properties in Anniston became easier for the city Monday.
During its meeting Monday, the Anniston City Council amended its nuisance ordinance to shorten the time needed before the city can clean overgrown private properties declared public nuisances. The change is just the latest of the city's efforts to combat blight to improve the look of Anniston and make it more attractive to potential residents and businesses.
The ordinance specifically addresses properties overgrown with weeds and grass that the city has already declared public nuisances because the owners have consistently failed to maintain them. Previously, the city had to wait up to 60 days before it could step in and use its employees to mow and weed such properties. Under the new ordinance, however, the city only has to wait 10 days before it can act.
"Every time we got to the point that we needed to abate a property, we had to come to the council and have them to first declare it a nuisance then read the property address aloud, then give notification," said City Manager Brian Johnson. "Now if you are a repeat offender, the code enforcer goes out, declares a property a nuisance, and 10 days later, there is no council action — we just cut it and put a lien on the property."
Johnson added that the same 10-day process can be repeated as many times as necessary for such properties.
Councilman Jay Jenkins said he speeding up the cleaning process will help the city in its larger efforts to remove blight.
"This is part of our war on blight," Jenkins said. "This puts another tool in the tool box."
The city has ramped up efforts to address blight this year and plans to do even more once it passes a new budget in October. It's part of a concerted effort by the council to make the city more beautiful and safer for residents and to attract new residents and businesses, thereby growing Anniston and enlarging its tax base.
The city has an abundance of overgrown lots and dilapidated buildings. City code enforcer Tana Bryant has said the city has more than 1,500 lots that have been declared public nuisances. It also has 120 houses that should be torn down, Bryant has said.
To fight the problem, this year the city has torn down 20 dilapidated homes and identified 10 more for demolition in the coming months. Last year, the city did not tear down any vacant buildings. However, the city plans to allocate more money for demolition in the next budget to better address the issue. The city also plans to hire three new code enforcers. Currently, Bryant is the city's only code enforcer.
In keeping with its efforts to combat blight, the council Monday also declared an apartment complex on 1925 Rocky Hollow Road as a public nuisance due to multiple nearby neighborhood complaints of crime there.
City Attorney Bruce Downey said the city can now take civil action against the property's owners to address the issue.
"The most severe thing we can do is have the court shut down the rental property," Downey said. "Hopefully we can find a resolution with the property owner to avoid civil litigation."
Jenkins applauded the council's vote to declare the property a public nuisance.
"We will leave no rock unturned when it comes to removing blight," Jenkins said.
Also during the public comment section of the meeting, Anniston resident Jerica Bailey recounted an experience she had with an Anniston police officer in January, saying he unjustly pointed his firearm at her while she was exiting her residence. The officer was addressing another issue nearby at the time that did not involve her, Bailey said.
Bailey said she feared for her life and that to her knowledge, the police department has done nothing to address her complaint.
Johnson said after the meeting that he did not know about the complaint or if anything formal had been done, but that the would look into the matter.
Also during the meeting, Johnson announced the promotions of two employees. City Planner Toby Bennington was recently made head of the city's new Planning and Development Services Department, a "one-stop shop" at City Hall that streamlines services for residents and business developers, such as providing building inspections.
Johnson said Bersheloa Austin was recently promoted to be the director of human resources, adding that this was the first time a black woman has ever held the position in Anniston. The news of Austin's appointment was met with applause from the meeting attendees.
"She is department head because she deserved it," Jenkins said.
Also during the meeting the council:
- Appointed Dr. George Crawford to the Regional Medical Center Board.
- Approved business incentives for Cali's Fresh Mexican restaurant and Creedmoor Sports.
- Approved the city's participation in the annual state sales tax holiday.
- Authorized the city manager to execute an agreement with the Calhoun County 911 District to provide law enforcement telecommunication and radio dispatch services.