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SoBo residents air neglected property complaints

The Town of South Boston has elected to raze 129 structures over the past five years through its blight abatement program, but the problem remains, judging from Monday’s town council meeting.

Washington Avenue resident Jim Luedtke and Second Street resident Mary Douglas each aired their concerns over two houses on Second Street, one currently unoccupied and the other occupied.

The back of the property at 1110 Second St. abuts the back of his property at 810 Washington Ave., explained Luedtke  

“It’s a wreck,” he said.  “The town boarded up the windows and doors, but that shows it’s a run down property.”

The house is currently uninhabited by people, but inhabited by various animals, according to Luedtke.

“We would frankly like to have that house eventually torn down.

“I understand you have limits, financial and manpower and so on, but I guess I want to be a squeaky wheel, so if there’s anything you can say to us, we’d appreciate it.”

Town Manager Ted Daniel told Luedtke the town is aware of the house and has taken any actions it could within legal boundaries, including having a contractor board up the windows and doors and clean up the property. 

“We looked at the house, and the house is ugly, but the house is structurally sound and not at the point of condemning it,” Daniel told Luedtke.

“It is a problem, it’s aggravating, and it’s a blighted property, and we continue to do everything we can to pursue it.

“Most properties we deal with would have substantial structural problems that make it incumbent upon the owner to either fix it up or take the house down,” continued Daniel. “With all these issues we have to be careful and have legal counsel before we go onto someone’s property, so we’re continuing to pursue that.”

Daniel reassured Luedtke the town is trying to pick up new methods working with legal counsel to more efficiently address situations like these.

“I think what Jim is looking for is an assurance we continue to pursue it as aggressively as we can, because I think it’s a horror, and I’m surprised it’s structurally sound,” said Councilman Coleman Speece.

Douglas said she also is concerned about that same property, but she has a bigger concern about the property next to her, an occupied house at 1114 Second Street.

“It’s in total disrepair, and I’m embarrassed for people to come to my house,” said a frustrated Douglas.

Douglas said she and her husband built a privacy fence about a month ago but received a letter from the town advising them the fence violated the zoning ordinance due to its height.

The letter said they had to either remove the fence or lower it to four feet because of the zoning ordinance.

Douglas said she had spoken to the owner of the property and was told he wasn’t going to do any repairs.

“That’s why the rent is so cheap,” Douglas said the property owner told her.

“$450 a month to live in a dump, and to me that’s not cheap, and it goes beyond that,” she added. “I’m totally disgusted we’re required to remove a fence, but there’s nothing to require a property owner first of all to take care of his property and require tenants who live there to take care of their property.

“We have rodents that run through, and not too long ago, I opened my back door and a raccoon ran into my house,” Douglas told council. “We have skunks, rats and maybe groundhogs.  I’m the type of person that does not like to be fenced in, but at the same time, I don’t want to live next to that.”

Approximately 10 people live in the two-bedroom house, according to Douglas.

“I’m here tonight to beg you for a variance,” Douglas said. “I’ve just gotten to the end of my rope and don’t want to live there because of that house. I told the landlord what if you were subjected to this, would you want this next to your house. We’re in heart of the town, and if you have to see that type of property, it’s an embarrassment to me and to South Boston.

Council appeared sympathetic with Douglas and Luedtke.

“I feel your pain,” said Councilman Ed Owens.  “I just went through two and a half years dealing with a property and now it’s down, but it’s a long process and property owners do have rights. We have to go through so much due process to make things happen.  We have an agreement with the county building inspector, and we have to go by the professional opinion of the county building inspector.”

“It’s absolutely a horror,” Speece said in reference to the boarded up house at 1110 Second Street. If we can’t find somebody who owns it, seems to me we should find some legal guidance to tear it down. If nobody owns it, who’s going to fuss if we tear it down.”

Dealing with zoning issues, particularly violations, is frustrating, Daniel told council.

“When we know there’s a violation, it’s encumbent upon us to cite it, and this is the situation we find ourselves in about the fence,” he said.

Daniel explained fences similar in height to the Douglas’ were built before the current ordinance went into effect in 1999.

Those property owners have a right to continue to maintain those fences, Daniel added.

“The frustrating part is you have a valid reason in your mind to put up that privacy fence, but unfortunately we have to enforce the law as written,” Daniel told Douglas.

Douglas has two options, the town manager explained, going before the board of zoning appeals and asking for a variance or going before the planning commission and explain to them why they should make changes to the current zoning ordinance.

“It amazes me that as a community we can determine how high a fence can be but not require property owners to maintain a property,” noted Douglas.

“That’s what bothers me.  Based upon what you told me, we have to remove the fence, and that’s going to cost me, and pay $175 to apply for a variance, which is a problem for me, while these people continue to pile up trash.”

“I’m not sure we shouldn’t waive the fee for application for variance in this case, because it’s an eyesore.  You have a valid complaint,” Speece told Douglas.

In enforcing nuisance ordinances, the property has to be a nuisance before the town can take action, Daniel explained.

“It’s already an aggravation before the town can take action. We don’t have an ugly ordinance.  It goes back to being responsible, and we’re doing everything we can,” Daniel said.

Douglas told council she would plan to appear before the planning commission at tonight’s meeting to air her concerns and ask for a change in the current zoning ordinance.