published Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Cleveland eyes cleanup of abandoned property

  • photo
    A pedestrian walkway extends over Cincinnati Avenue from one side of the soon-to-be vacant Whirlpool plant that extends for many blocks in South Cleveland, Tenn.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- City officials are grappling with how to rehabilitate dilapidated and abandoned homes in East Cleveland.

Cleveland City Council members this week discussed the need to bring in a special official to expedite the processes of tearing down and cleaning up residential properties.

"We looked at houses that need to come down, [where the owners] are not working with our court system, they are not responding to mail, or we don't know who the owners are," Councilman Bill Estes said about a recent tour he took of distressed properties.

The core issue isn't necessarily code enforcement, City Manager Janice Casteel said, but a matter of speeding up the process in certain situations.

Estes estimated there are about a dozen houses that require action but were stuck in limbo. The untended sites create eyesores for neighbors and bring down nearby residential home values, he said. A number of the situations resulted from deceased, out-of-state or unknown owners, and that put those neighborhoods "at a great disadvantage," Estes said.

Officials discussed the possibility of creating an administrative hearing officer position as a solution to expediting the processes involved in such cases. The officer would serve in a case-by-case basis and likely need a background in law or civil engineering.

Estes suggested the city consider paying for any special training for the post and to take the first steps soon.

"Under state law the administrative officer will help in this and will speed this up," he said. "It's done well in other communities and municipalities, and I think we need to follow suit."

If the city could take possession of such distressed properties, it could serve as a boon to local organizations dedicated to facilitating home ownership, officials said.

Cleveland Community Services "would be anxious to come in and clean up" some of the properties acquired by donation or through grant funding, Vice Mayor Avery Johnson said.

Johnson is chairman of that organization.

Officials agreed to review the matter at the Cleveland City Council meeting set for Dec. 10.

In other business related to rejuvenating East Cleveland, city leaders have agreed to pursue a $200,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant to fund studies for alternative uses for the downtown Whirlpool site, which is scheduled to be completely vacated in two years.

A process of neighborhood engagement is under way as part of that process, according to Jonathan Jobe, director of Cleveland's development and engineering services.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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