Vacant dealership cleanup requires formal complaints

by Sarah Fay Campbell

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Long-vacant former Dodge dealership on Hwy. 34    

The former John Cullen Dodge auto dealership on Hwy. 34 East has been closed for four years now.

The site has become overgrown, with plenty of grass growing up through cracks in the pavement, towering weeds and out of control bushes.

Coweta County has an ordinance requiring commercial, industrial, and subdivision areas to be kept neat and clean. The ordinance includes the hiring of contractors by the county, to do the cleanup work and put liens on property to recover the cost of the tidying.

So why hasn't the county taken any action to bring the site, in a prime commercial corridor, to the required state of aesthetic appeal?

"There are no official complaints on this property, in our records, that would trigger action," said Tom Corker, Coweta's communications manager.

Coweta County's Code Enforcement Office, as well as animal control, the building department, and the zoning department, primarily work on complaints.

Code enforcement and zoning work solely on complaints. Animal control works on complaints, though animal control officers can act immediately when noting violations.

The complaint-based nature of county enforcement is "based on a policy established several years back," Corker said.

The cleanup of the Dodge dealership would fall under the county's "rank growth" ordinance. Changing the appearance would require "one official complaint to code enforcement to begin the review process in the areas where the ordinance applies," Corker said.

"An official complaint is one that has been filed with the proper department and is signed by the individual or individuals making the complaint," said Corker. The complaint must also include an address and telephone number.

The ordinance applies to "developed property," which is defined as "any property located in a platted subdivision where a dwelling is located thereon or property that has been improved for purposes other than residential use or agricultural farm uses."

The county regularly enforces the ordinance against subdivision properties. At the last county commission meeting, four liens were executed.

In June of 2012, the commissioners tabled an ordinance that would have extended the prohibition on grass taller than 12 inches to all residential properties, not just those in platted subdivisions.

The county also has an "unsanitary, unsafe or unhealthy conditions" ordinance which can work to force the cleanup of undeveloped property or residential property not specifically inside of a subdivision, but the threshold is higher.

While enforcement of most codes requires one official complaint, the Unsafe Buildings ordinance requires complaints be filed by at least five persons who are residents of the unincorporated areas, or by a "public authority."

The building official can also initiate action under the ordinance. The threshold for enforcement under the Unsafe Buildings ordinance is that a dwelling, building or structure is "unfit for human habitation or for commercial, industrial or business use."



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