Elected officials discussed the Southside Redevelopment Task Force and contracting an administrative hearing officer.
Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Vice President for Economic Development Doug Berry said the task force was inactive during the comprehensive planning process to lessen confusion.
“It was getting confusing, even to me as a member of the task force, while we’re going through the planning process,” Berry said.
Berry said the task force needs to start meeting again and have its membership expanded to include area residents.
“There are very few individuals and maybe no individuals who are residents of that area. It’s mostly business interests and other appointees with technical expertise. I think for it to be a proper committee to go through this entire process, including these grants, it needs to be broadened.”
Berry said Whirlpool is still about 20 months away from vacating its former downtown location.
At-Large City Councilman Richard Banks introduced a resolution Feb. 28 to create a panel to study the future of the 90-acre site when it is vacated.
Councilman Bill Estes saw at least a dozen structures that needed to be demolished during a recent tour of his second district with City Manager Janice Casteel, Assistant City Manager Melinda Carroll and Codes Enforcement Officer Criss Caywood.
The 2nd District is a diverse area of the city that includes the downtown business district north of Inman Street West to Keith Street, Lee University and everything east of the railroad tracks south of 15th Street N.E.
“We looked at houses that need to come down. Houses (owners) that are not working with our court system, they are not responding to mail, we don’t know who the owners are,” he said. “I was impressed with Criss and how he knew who the owners are or were and he knows these properties. It’s not fair to the neighbors.”
The Council passed a resolution Aug. 13 to contract with an administrative hearing officer to help expedite the process of closing cases involving owners of derelict properties.
Minor codes violators would still be sent to Municipal Court Judge Bill Moss, but serious cases could be diverted to an administrative hearing officer. Fines levied in municipal court are limited to $50, but an administrative hearing officer could assess fines of up to $500 per violation in cases involving the primary residence, or up to $500 per violation per day for rental or commercial property.
Staff will present a list of interested building professionals, engineers or attorneys to the Dec. 10 Council meeting. The city will pay the cost of training and mileage.
Estes said codes violation cases are not resolved in a timely manner.
“There are a dozen houses in the Second Ward that put their neighbors at a great disadvantage on decent living,” he said. “It’s worse than you think.”
City Attorney John Kimball said property owners are deceased in most of the instances in Estes’s district.
“There is one family member in Oregon. They’re not interested in it and haven’t paid the taxes in three or four years,” he said.
Estes said in most instances, neighbors want to buy the property, but they cannot because it has not been probated.
At-Large Councilman George Poe said he would support a hearing officer any way possible.
Berry formerly ran codes enforcement for the city of Knoxville 10 years ago. Uninhabitable properties were channeled through the Better Building Board and city code enabled demolition of the property.
“We had money from HUD we used to acquire the property from the property owner using our eminent domain authority under redevelopment. Then we would put them back on the market and sometimes we’d sell them for as little as a dollar to Habitat or anyone who wanted to build a home,” he said.
“I can’t imagine how Cleveland would change if 12 houses were built where those are,” Estes said.
Berry said HUD entitlement funding allowed housing rehabilitation in the inner city.
“There are any number of things you can do,” Berry said.
Vice Mayor Avery Johnson asked that Cleveland Services Agency be considered as they move forward because the agency is in the process of going through neighborhoods and buying up old property and fixing up homes.
“That would be a good organization to work with to rehab some of these vacant lots and clean them up,” he said.