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The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Older problems get older

The House Next Door: Part 3
Beau Cabell/The Telegraph
Hartley Street, once a bustling middle class neighborhood in south Macon–quickly thrown together to provide housing for Warner Robins base workers–is nothing like the fast-paced days following World War II.

Nearly a year has gone by since Macon-Bibb County agreed to take demolition bids on the abandoned house at 1261 Hartley St., and nothing has really changed.

Neighbors complained for years that the empty, overgrown building drew vermin and drug users, creating an eyesore that helped drive down the value of the surrounding neighborhood. Code inspectors filed report after report and mailed multiple letters to the last known owner. The case inched its way through the long legal process toward a declaration of condemnation.

On Dec. 6, 2013, Macon code officials announced they would take bids to have it demolished. Yet the house still sits amid high weeds, windows boarded but the door standing open. In many ways it is like hundreds — even thousands — of other abandoned houses in Macon.

The new consolidated government has reorganized code enforcement, changing some processes. But in a last-ditch effort to track down anyone legally responsible for such properties, Macon-Bibb Municipal Court recently added a new requirement: a full title search before a demolition order can be issued, said John Baker, building abatement manager for Business Development Services, which oversees code enforcement.

“I believe that requesting that title search for that (Hartley Street) property needs to be done,” he said.

That can make the long process even longer, Baker acknowledged. After a neighboring family contacted The Telegraph, the house at 1261 Hartley St. was singled out in a February news story as one example of how long it can take to deal with blighted, abandoned buildings.

About 40 percent of the properties on Hartley Street’s two-block length are empty, but this house in particular had drawn attention from surrounding residents.

William Wood lived next door at 1257 Hartley St. for nearly 60 years. His family said the house at 1261 Hartley fell empty about a decade ago. Five or six years ago his family began calling the city’s Economic & Community Development Department, which then oversaw code enforcement.

Told in late 2013 that nothing was imminent, Wood’s family contacted The Telegraph.

Wood died on Christmas Eve at age 88. His family members said they planned to sell the house at 1257 Hartley but worried that the adjacent eyesore would bring down its value. They hoped it would be torn down before they got their house ready for market.

The Telegraph’s efforts to reach Wood’s grandson Stevie Clements for an update on their situation were unsuccessful. A request for any new Municipal Court action relating to 1261 Hartley St. turned up only a three-year-old citation, a list of the owner’s missed court appearances and a short form from November 2011.

Code officials described the case on the property as “pretty straightforward,” but a newspaper request for five years of records turned up more than 150 pages, including complaints from two other neighbors.

Code inspectors filed notice after notice of various violations, but there was practically no action, either from the government or the property’s owners. Each time the house changed hands — it did so twice in five years — the enforcement process started over.

That last happened when a man named Sean Tucker bought the house at a bankruptcy sale in May 2010. Then, by late 2011, he had dropped off local government’s radar. Government officials haven’t heard from him since. They kept sending notices to his last address, even though they knew it to be invalid.

After two years of unanswered letters, one sent on Dec. 6, 2013, said the city would take demolition bids. But officials said at the time that one more attempt must be made to reach Tucker. Then the house would go on the abatement list, which meant waiting for a contractor to screen it for asbestos and other environmental hazards; then another wait on the list for actual demolition, all of which can take months.

Changes made to code enforcement organization and software early this year should keep more notices from going to invalid addresses, said Tom Buttram, director of Business Development Services, which now oversees code enforcement.

But with the new title search requirement from Municipal Court, 1261 Hartley St. isn’t even on the list for asbestos abatement yet. Baker said code officials are checking with the county attorney’s office to establish exactly how far they have to go in title searches.

Meanwhile, though there isn’t a for-sale sign in the yard, Wood’s former home is listed by Fickling & Co. Realtors for $35,000. It’s been on the market for more than three months, and the asking price is about 5 percent below its assessed tax value.

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