Note: This is the first of two parts of an article about “Operation Clean Sweep” in the City of Progress.
How to rid the city of “nuisance properties” has been a priority for the Enterprise City Council since being sworn into office in November 2020.
“You charged the staff with coming up with a plan—and we have,” City Administrator Jonathan Tullos told those attending the Enterprise City Council work session May 3.
“A collaborative, team effort,” is what Tullos called multiple meetings between himself, the fire and police chiefs, the city’s engineering department and the city’s revenue office. “I know one of your big agenda items that came out of the strategic planning meetings are nuisance properties and how to address them,” he said. “This has really been a collaborative effort with multiple meetings over a couple of months trying to come up with some solutions that actually impacted some of the properties and make progress.”
Enterprise City Engineer and Director of Public Works Barry Mott concurred with Tullos’s comments. “I want to echo the fact that this been a total team effort,” Mott said. “Since I’ve been here for the last year it’s been a council effort to see what we are going to do about nuisance properties.
“We’ve looked around and there are some ‘repeat offenders’ that keep coming back on the (nuisance property complaint),” Mott said, adding that with the recent hiring of Enterprise Code Enforcement Inspector Clay Nelson, the effort has to address the issue has intensified. “We have reached out to the police and fire departments, the city’s chief financial officer and the state board of health. It’s been a collaborative effort to get us where we are today.”
What is being tagged “Operation Clean Sweep” kicked off with 40 letters declaring “property nonconformance” and detailing cited deficiencies sent to the property owners and tenants on Colony Drive by the engineering department.
“I went down to Colony Drive and did an initial inspection of the exterior of the buildings, the roads and the wooded areas around it,” Nelson said. “We found a lot of problems.”
Nelson said that the letters gave recipients 10 day’s notice to contact the engineering department with a correction plan and proposed timeline. He said that he received 10 responses and one of those was a property owner who drove from out of state to meet with him.
“During that visit I had multiple tenants (of neighboring properties) reach out to me asking if I would come over and see the property where they lived,” Nelson said. “What we wanted to gain at the beginning of this was entrance into some of these houses. We knew that the outside was horrible and we knew the roads were horrible but we knew not every one was in as bad a shape as the other. Not every home down there is just that bad but we knew if we got inside some of these houses what we would find.
“And after with meeting with some of the tenants, I called Barry (Mott) up there,” Nelson said as he showed the council photographs of some of the homes and surrounding area, to include streams of raw sewerage and sinkholes under sidewalks. “That is actually a sink hole that goes from one side of the sidewalk to the other with two basketball sized holes that drop down so far you can’t see the bottom. This is stuff you see every day at Colony Drive.”
“We had had tenants coming up asking us to come see where they were living,” Mott said. “I will put this caveat out there and that is that you can’t do a blanket statement that every facility there is in as bad a state as I am fixing to show you.
“But I will show you what we did see,” he said as Nelson clicked through a series of photographs of mold, rotted wood, decks with missing railing and deck connector beams pulled away from the wall.
Mott showed a photo of a child’s push car parked by brush. “When we walked near the push toy, we could smell raw sewage. The closer we got, the worse it became and we could see raw sewage.:
Mott said the state health department was notified and responded. “They can react to raw sewage outside the building but they do not have jurisdiction inside the building. That is where the city would have to step in,” he explained.
Mott played a video clip for the council that a former tenant in one of the Colony Drive properties gave him showing raw sewage that spewed into the person’s bathtub from the drain every time the person upstairs flushed their toilet.
One house pictured had sandbags outside the base of the door. “The tenant said that anytime they get significant rain, the water comes into the door of the den. They actually have two rugs they keep on the inside to soak up the water,” Mott said.
“Why Colony Drive? We picked one just to start with,” Mott explained. “We’re not going to stop at Colony. We’re going to go around to these areas and tackle them. We will treat everybody fairly but there are standards that have to be upheld and we’re going to make people do that.”
Enterprise Police Chief Michael Moore and Fire Chief Christopher Davis told the council that their departments are very aware of the housing situation at Colony Drive, and others in the city. “When Jonathan (Tullos) and Barry (Mott) first came to us, we rode them around them around to show them the areas that we have serious problems with,” Moore said. “There are certain laws we can enforce, but certain things have to come from the building inspector.
“We’ve been into these residences. It’s disheartening to see people living like this,” Moore said. “There is no doubt in my mind that we’re going to upset people but I don’t think you are going to have any issues out of any of the tenants down there of us trying to make it a better place for people to live.
“This isn’t the first property (in this condition), it isn’t the last property,” Moore said. “There are plenty of properties in the city that need a lot of attention. I hope this sets the standard for where we go from here. We’ll be there to assist engineering with anything they need.”
Davis agreed. “We’ve got a solid path to move forward on and I think they’ve done a fantastic job. We’ve been inside these homes for active emergencies,” he told the council. “You feel like there is not much you can do about it when you leave them.
“This is our opportunity to move forward and fix the problem,” he added. “This is an opportunity to do some good for the city and, obviously, the fire department is on board.”
The next meeting of the Enterprise City Council is Tuesday, May 17, in the council chambers at Enterprise City Hall. A work session begins at 5 p.m. A voting meeting is at 6 p.m. Both meetings are open to the public.