Leader Blues

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

TOP STORY >> Landlords, city officials agree to work together

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville will soon beef up its grass, trash and condemnation ordinances in order to improve the city’s image.

City officials and nearly 100 landlords discussed ways to improve Jacksonville’s appearance during a meeting Thursday at the Esther Nixon library. The landlords represented most of the renters in the city.

With their support, Mayor Gary Fletcher plans to present a strong abatement ordinance to the council by month’s end.

“Anything the city can do to raise the bar we support individually and as a company,” said Jim Peacock Jr., whose company manages 550 “doors” ranging from 3,000-square-foot homes to 500-square-foot apartments.

“Some folks may think that overgrown grass is not a big thing but it has almost a domino effect, causing other problems including what people think of the city’s image,” Peacock said. “We are all for higher standards.”

Realtor Beckie Brooks, who manages about 10 properties, called the meeting “fantastic and enlightening. The turnout was fantastic and that was important to have so many landlords and city officials at the meeting.”

Realtor Daniel Gray, whose company manages more than 400 units, called the meeting a “great first step.”

City Administrator Jim Durham, who is also a landlord, said the meeting went quite well. “Our landlords are very interested in the city getting cleaned up. A cleaner city can only help them,” Durham said.

Bringing properties up to higher standards and cleaning up the city is not a five-year program according to Fletcher. “We want to see real progress in the next 12 to 14 months.”

The planned abatement ordinance will follow the lines of the very successful one developed by North Little Rock. “It’ll be tougher and shorten the time violators have to clean things up. It’ll be a nuts- and-bolts document,” Durham explained.

He said right now the city can only act if it receives a complaint or if the code enforcement officers see a violation. For example, Durham explained, if someone’s grass is too high the city now sends the owner a letter telling them they have three days to cut the lawn. If the owner doesn’t, then the city goes through a bid process to get a crew to cut the lawn. “The whole process can take up to two weeks and then if the owner lets the grass go, it starts all over,” Durham said.

In the new ordinance, the violator will get only one warning letter for the entire season. Iif the lawn is not cut in three days, the city will cut it on the fourth day and the owner will be fined plus be charged the cost of the city cutting the lawn. That property then goes on a checklist and if the grass gets too high, the city will cut it and fine and charge the owners again.
“The problematic people will get the message real quick,” Durham said.

He said the new ordinance will help change the look of the city quickly, but it will take more code officers, seasonal help and equipment to get the job done.

What Peacock liked about the meeting was the overall tone. “It was very informative and positive,” he said. Peacock liked the fact that so many city officials were at the meeting. “The mayor, the city administrator, the chief of police, the city planner, aldermen. It was clearly in the spirit of everyone coming together to take positive and progressive action for our city,” Peacock said. “That’s the opposite of what I’ve seen in the past.”

Gray said it was great to get all the landlords together in one place. “The meeting was a real good source of information,” he said.

Plans are now for the landlords to develop a strong association with elected officers and become more involved in the city as one voice.

Gray’s only concern with any ordinance is that the city makes sure it notifies the landlord as well as the tenant. “If we don’t know there’s a problem, we can’t take care of it,” adding, “If we know, it will be handled.”

Brooks also thought the meeting was a very good first step and said all the speakers were excellent. But she’s holding back complete judgment until she gets a chance to read the proposed abatement ordinance. “I’m not big on government regulations, but do know we need to do something,” she said.