Blight conditions remain a challenge without help from property owners

By Daniel Adamovich, PhD

      Despite Holbrook having ordinances against weeds, abandoned cars, dilapidated buildings, and other neglected or rundown structures, the city is dotted with them, and battling the problem is no easy task without owners willing to do their part.

City Manager Randy Sullivan said, “A lot of it comes down to money. The city can’t afford to haul these guys to court, so we try to work with them halfway, but a lot of those homeowners can’t afford to bring it back up to code either.”

It took the city three years and $20,000 to eventually take possession of a house that had many code violations, exposed electrical wiring and lots of trash, including dog feces. In addition to the legal expense to gain possession of the house and property, the city now needs to pay a contractor to tear it down.

“We really work with the owners, and if the owners are willing to clean up the property, we’ll provide them with a bin. We try that with trailers that are old and dilapidated. If the owners are willing to tear it down, then we’ll take dump bins over there and they can take it down, and we’ll take that trash for free just to get the trailer off the land,” said Sullivan.

“We take weeds for free at the transfer site, and if they cut them themselves and pile them up, we’ll go and pick them up for free. For trees, they are free also, provided they cut the tree to a maximum of four foot lengths.”

If notices are sent to elderly individuals who are looking for someone to clean up their property, the city will provide them with the names of a couple of vendors.

Besides weeds and trees, the city provides support for most metals, though Sullivan noted, “If it’s a huge pile that would take us a little more time and effort than usual, then we’ll charge them.”

The first action by the city for blight is to issue offenders with a notice of inspection and violation, wherein the violation is stated, the codes in violation are listed, and outlining what needs to be done and how long they have to accomplish it. The codes mentioned are Holbrook City Code 3-1-3 and 3-1-4, Maintenance of Land, Buildings and Structures. If this notice is ignored, a second notice is sent. If the second notice is ignored, a third notice is sent by certified mail. If this third notice is ignored, the offender is taken to court.

Sullivan recalled a time that the city addressed the weeds along the alleys and spoke with owners who said they would take care of it, but that never came to fruition. “Then we started a program where the city handed out weed killer. We gave this killer and sprayers out free until the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) stopped us because the vials of weed killer were not labeled correctly,” he explained.

At one time the city used prisoners for clean up duty, but that stopped because of the number of cuts in city personnel. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of manpower to keep those crews working,” said the city manager.

“We have found we can do that (tear down a structure) with residential buildings and not worry about asbestos. It’s a different ball game when it comes to commercial. They need environmental reviews, they have to have asbestos reviews and until all those are met, we can’t tear it down,” explained Sullivan. If the owners choose to tear down their own commercial structure, it’s not as big a hassle as it is for the city.

“We’re about to run into some big issues on the old bus depot. That’s on the south corner at Hopi and the light. That building is really bad, the roof is leaking. The roof is so bad that when it rains, the floor actually sits below where our road is so that whole building just floods. I would think we can still work with the owner and try to do something to make it look nice,” he said.

At the moment, the city is doing all it can afford. “Right now Cher (Reyes, city clerk) does the notices, and I have two other guys that drive around and get those pictures and get a list of who to notify. Lisa (Maestas, administrative assistant) gets the addresses and sends them notices. It’s a constant battle and there’s no end in sight,” concluded Sullivan.