BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Blue Ridge City Council held a first reading of their Derelict Property Ordinance, or ordinance BR2019-08 during their meeting on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.
This 36 page ordinance focuses on what the city considers to be “derelict and blighted property within the City”, and as many citizens are rightfully concerned, gives the city power to do anything from raising taxes on such properties to seizing the property entirely.
Properties that are potentially in violation of the new ordinance are all of those the city deems “[…]is unfit for human habitation or commercial, industrial, or business use or occupancy due to inadequate provisions for ventilation, light, air, sanitation, or open spaces; poses an imminent harm to life or other property due to fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, storm or other natural catastrophe; is vacant and used in the commission of drug crimes; is occupied and used repeatedly for the commission of illegal activities, including facilitating organized crime or criminal enterprises after written notice to the owner of such activities conducted therein; is abandoned; or otherwise constitutes an endangerment to the public health or safety as a result of unsanitary or unsafe conditions[…]” (lines 124 – 133).
The ordinance doesn’t state who exactly would be in charge of inspecting such properties, but that they are empowered to “Investigate and inspect the condition of dwellings, buildings, structures, and private property within the City to determine those structures and property uses in violation of this article. Entries onto private property shall be made in a manner so as to cause the least possible inconvenience; provided, however, the enforcement official shall not enter into any occupied dwelling or structure without first having obtained the consent of the owner or a person in possession. In those cases where consent to entry is denied after reasonable request, the enforcement official may apply to the municipal court for an administrative search warrant upon showing probable cause that a violation exists.” (lines 149 – 159).
If the property is found to be in violation of the new ordinance, the city ultimately will make the decision as to whether or not the property is worth having cleaned up and repaired or demolished completely.
“If the repair, alteration, or improvement of the said dwelling, building, or structure can be made at a reasonable cost in relation to the present value of the dwelling, building, or structure, requiring the owner, within the time specified in the order, to repair, alter, or improve such dwelling, building, or structure so as to bring it into full compliance with the applicable codes relevant to the cited violation; and, if applicable, to secure by closing the structure so that it cannot be used in connection with the commission of drug crimes; or If the repair, alteration, or improvement of the said dwelling, building, or structure in order to bring it into full compliance with applicable codes relevant to the cited violations cannot be made at a reasonable cost in relation to the present value of the dwelling, building, or structure, requiring the owner, within the time specified in the order, to demolish and remove such dwelling, building, or structure and all debris from the property. (lines 232 – 246).
The ordinance also states that those who are in possession of “[…]a common, ill-governed and disorderly house, to the encouragement of gaming, drinking, illicit drug activity, or other misbehavior, to the common disturbance of the neighborhood or orderly citizens, shall be guilty of an offense against the City[…]”. (lines 405-408).
The enforcement penalties? Fines to having public water services removed from certain properties.
“Any person who willfully refuses to comply with the provisions of this article shall be cited to appear before the municipal court and, upon conviction, shall be fined not less than $500.00; each day of continued violation, after citation, shall constitute a separate offense. In addition to the foregoing fines, upon conviction, the director shall discontinue the public water supply service at any premises upon which there is found to be a cross-connection, auxiliary intake, by-pass, or inter435 connection, and service shall not be restored until such cross-connection, auxiliary, by-pass, or inter-connection has been discontinued. ” (lines 429 – 436).
If the property is found to be in violation of the new ordinance, it may also be subject to increased taxes.
“There is hereby levied on all real property within the City which has been officially identified as maintained in a blighted condition an increased ad valorem tax by applying a factor of seven (7.0) to the millage rate applied to the property, so that such property shall be taxed at a higher millage rate generally applied in the municipality, or otherwise provided by general law; provided, however, real property on which there is situated a dwelling house which is being occupied as the primary residence of one or more persons shall not be subject to official identification as maintained in a blighted condition and shall not be subject to increased taxation.” (lines 521 – 529).
There will be a meeting in the near future that will allow a public hearing regarding the ordinance prior to the official vote by the City Council.
We have attempted to reach out to the Blue Ridge City Council for further clarification on this proposed ordinance, but have not yet received any communication from them regarding it.
An open records request has been delivered to the council, so we will keep you updated on further developments!
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