Jacksonville ordinances seem to have had desired neighborhood calming effect — but with a cost
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
Sep 29, 2012 | 5085 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State student Wesley Minton packs his belongings Friday as he prepares to move from a Jacksonville house he's been sharing with three roommates. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
Jacksonville State student Wesley Minton packs his belongings Friday as he prepares to move from a Jacksonville house he's been sharing with three roommates. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
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JACKSONVILLE — Wesley Minton and Cody Davis were packing up their belongings on Friday, preparing to move from the Second Avenue home they share with two other Jacksonville State University students.

The four roommates have been given two weeks by their landlord to leave the home they’ve shared for a year and a half, after the city discovered their living arrangement violated a housing ordinance that went into effect in July. Minton has found another house in Jacksonville, but Davis loaded up his truck Friday to drive his belongings to his hometown of Canton, Ga., since he has been unable to find a home for the remainder of the semester.

“I’m thinking they didn’t think about things like this when they made these laws,” he said.

Two ordinances, one restricting the number of unrelated tenants living in a home in certain residential districts and one allowing for tougher enforcement on unruly gatherings, were passed by the City Council last year in an effort to quiet down family neighborhoods in the city. Many people think the new ordinances are helping to keep the peace in the city, including police Chief Tommy Thompson.

“They were meant to help each other,” he said, “and they have.”

The ordinances

Debate over reworking the definition of a family for use in the city’s zoning code became an emotional issue as city officials tried to strike some balance to appease the homeowners and landlords in residential neighborhoods. The resulting compromise created a sliding scale of family, with limits on the number of unrelated occupants. For example, single-family homes are allowed two unrelated tenants, or a third if two are related, while two-family residences are allowed to have one family and one unrelated individual, or three unrelated individuals.

The City Council approved the ordinance in May 2011, but a 14-month grace period allowed current residents time to make other housing arrangements by July 9.

The Police Department has been granted more enforcement power under the unruly gatherings ordinance, passed in February of last year.

The law gave police power to disband unruly gatherings. If such gatherings included a combination of excessive noise or traffic, obstruction of streets, illegal parking, public intoxication or urination, the possession or use of alcohol by minors, presence of controlled substances, fights, disturbances of the peace, and litter, they can be declared unruly.

First offenses draw warnings. On a second offense, police post a bright green sign at the property denoting it as the site of an unruly gathering. Further offenses can lead to fines, community service and jail time.

Their impact

From September 2011 through July, the city cited 26 unruly gatherings. Only two residences were posted for second offenses, and in both cases, he said, the tenants were thrown out. Since July, there have been none.

This semester, Thompson said, the police have been called to some parties with underage drinking, but nothing that reached the level of unruly gatherings.

During this time, there have been 13 occupancy complaints on properties since the grandfathering period ended July 9.

City Code Enforcement Officer David Bryant said only three or four of the complaints made since March have been legitimate. In those instances, he said, the landlords have worked with the city to come into compliance.

Wayne Reaves, an advocate of the unrelated tenants change who lives on Eighth Street, said the move has been effective.

“It seems like it has been working,” Reaves said. “We haven’t had any problems that I know of.”

Sherry Blanton said she has seen similar improvement but believes there is still work to be done in enforcing the ordinance.

An advocate of the unrelated tenants change, Blanton said her neighborhood was previously home to rowdy parties and trash-strewn lawns, but now her 12th Avenue area is “a delightful street.”

“I think the ones who were in the town perpetrating the unruly gatherings are learning,” she said. Blanton and Reaves both emphasized that they have not been working against the college students themselves, but what had been happening in their neighborhoods.

Unintended consequences

Keith Kelley of Century 21 Harris-McKay Realty in Anniston, which manages some property in Jacksonville, said he has seen students moving out of the city to rent in Alexandria, Weaver and Pleasant Valley.

For Davis, who paid $180 per month for one of the four bedrooms in his home, another affordable place was impossible to find mid-semester. The junior marketing major was working his way through school at a golf course. But now, he is skipping the semester and will transfer to Kennesaw State University in Georgia to finish his degree beginning in January. The delay doesn’t bother him so much as the transfer. “I really wanted to graduate from Jacksonville State,” he said.

Minton, who is from Piedmont, was able to find housing at another home through his fraternity.

Attempts to reach Davis’ landlord this week were unsuccessful.

Kelley said that due to the law's reduction of the number of unrelated tenants allowed in four-bedroom homes such as this one, the property owner generally is unable to get as much rent for the property — either from students or a family.

Many property owners are choosing to sell the properties rather than rent them for less. Coupled with students who are unwilling to pay higher rents, the unintended consequence of the law, he said, is probably vacant properties.

“In the past, before school was about to start, people wouldn’t be able to find property,” he said. “You can find property up there right now.”

Star staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
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