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Burning of downtown Fort Deposit eyesore buildings is first step in nuisance abatement

The Lowndes Signal

“The town of Fort Deposit is thrilled to see the owners of the downtown properties begin the cleanup process,” said Fort Deposit Town Attorney Arlene M. Richardson on the burning of certain eyesore buildings in downtown Fort Deposit on Saturday, Oct. 28.

The burning was part of an agreed cleanup the Fort Deposit Arts Council and property owners reached with the town this past August.

“The town is now looking toward enforcing our ordinances against other property owners who have been notified that their properties pose a nuisance to the citizens of our town,” Richardson said. “The mayor and council continue to work toward fulfilling the promises made during the last election to cleanup Fort Deposit.”

Prior to the agreement, the town sought a restraining order and fines against the Fort Deposit Arts Council and property owners regarding the condition of certain downtown buildings.

On Monday, Aug. 14, a representative of the Fort Department Arts Council (in this matter only) and property owners present reached an agreement with the Town Council at the town’s regular council meeting.

Charles Goodwin, who represented the arts council, said at the time, “We agreed to take our buildings down.” However, as the buildings in question shared common walls, he said, “You can’t take one without risking damage to other property owners’ buildings.”

He continued, “In order to do ours, we had to get releases to hold us harmless.”

Goodwin said the subject buildings would be taken down from an alley to the corner with the exception of a drug store, “If it is deemed that it can be saved, since it is not an eyesore.”

Richardson said of Saturday’s action by the arts council and property owners that buildings had to be burned first to get all of the wood out of them. “So, this is like step one,” she said. “The next thing they are going to do is push all of the debris that’s left into the holes, and then they will landscape over it.”

Richardson said that all of private property owners involved in this case agreed to the cleanup. “They all agreed and worked together to get the properties cleaned up,” she said. “The arts council, owned three of the properties. So, they’ve taken the lead with the permission of the other people to actually do the work.”

Following the August agreement, the Town Council decided to give the parties 120 days to clean up the site of the buildings, exempting weather delays.

Richardson said at the time, the Town Council is also willing to drop the fines that would have been imposed, “But they want each property owner to pay $500 per property owner to cover some of the cost of this whole thing.”

Richardson said she would ask Circuit Judge Terry Bozeman Lovell to put the pending case against the property owners on the “administrative docket” which she said means “It will be in limbo until the work is complete and fines are paid (the $500) and then we will dismiss the case.”

Appearing before the Town Council on the night of the agreement were Pam Barganier, Bobby Smith, Goodwin and Sandra Robinson.

Following is a recap of the civil action that was filed:

The town sought a restraining order and finds against the Fort Deposit Arts Council and property owners Christopher and Sandra Robinson, Cornelius and Vanessa Thomas and Linda Hale.

Richardson said the civil action 45-CV-2017-900035.00 was filed based upon “numerous complaints” from citizens.

According to the complaint, unless the court “grants an order restraining defendants from refusing to remove the buildings and debris, correct the nuisance and/or make their properties safe, it will cause immediate and irreparable to the town and its citizens.”

In addition, the town requested that the court impose a fine in accordance with a town of Fort Deposit Ordinance on each defendant as follows: Fort Deposit Arts Council in the amount of $10,683; Christopher Robinson and Sandra Robinson, jointly and severally, in the amount of $10,240; Cornelius and Vanessa Thomas, jointly and severally, in the amount of $11,230; and Linda Hale, in the amount of $10,630.

According to the complaint, the Arts Council owns certain downtown buildings which were described; defendants,’ Christopher Robinson and Sandra Robinson, residents of Lowndes County, jointly own the property known as Mr. Robinson’s old Barber Shop; defendants,’ Cornelius Thomas and Vanessa Thomas, residents of Lowndes County, jointly own property located in downtown Fort Deposit known as the old store; and defendant Linda Hale, a resident of Montgomery County, owns property located in downtown Fort Deposit, known as the second building from the corner of Rogers and Pollard Street.

The complaint stated, “Each of the buildings on defendants’ property has a common wall between them. One property cannot be cleaned without jeopardizing the integrity of the common walls.”

According to the complaint, the town of Fort Deposit notified the defendants in March of 2014 that the properties had become a nuisance as defined by the ordinances of the town.

The town sent another letter in Nov. 2016 informing the defendants to clean and abate the nuisance on their properties and the amount of fines accrued since they failed to correct the nuisance.

And, “Since receiving the letters in 2014, the defendant’s property has become such a hazard that it may cause loss of life to persons who venture on or near the premises. The brick walls of the buildings are crumbling, the roofs have caved in, the floors have caved in exposing deep basements, there is debris, glass and other hazardous items scattered around the buildings and sidewalks.”

The complaint “prays that this court will issue an injunction enjoining the defendants jointly and severally to clean, remove debris and otherwise abate the nuisance on the properties subject to this action. Plaintiff further prays that upon a final hearing of this cause, the court will grant unto the plaintiff such other, further or different relief as may be just and proper in the premises, and costs.”

Fort Deposit Cleanup Begins The Fort Deposit Arts Council and property owners began the abatement of certain downtown eyesore buildings on Saturday, Oct. 28 with the burning of certain downtown buildings as part of an agreement reached with the town of Fort Deposit in August. Submitted.

Fort Deposit Cleanup Begins
The Fort Deposit Arts Council and property owners began the abatement of certain downtown eyesore buildings on Saturday, Oct. 28 with the burning of certain downtown buildings as part of an agreement reached with the town of Fort Deposit in August. Submitted.