The “trash,” “junk” and “filth” at an Islands Highway property near Beulah Road have got to go.
That’s what Liberty County commissioners decided Tuesday when they approved an order that authorizes county agents remove items from a 3-acre residential property at 4021 Islands Highway.
Code enforcement officer Tony Mullis presented the order.
“It’s littered with, at the best I could count, over 50 junk vehicles. You can see just piles of trash,” Mullis said. “I have numerous complaints.”
This is not the first time this year the BoC has discussed nuisance properties.
Community beautification was a priority issue during the county-wide planning retreat in March, when some leaders expressed a desire to dress up shoddy locations, while others reminded them that governments have limited means of enforcement on private land.
District 4 Commissioner Pat Bowen said Tuesday another property in his district might follow the same path, and District 1 Commissioner Marion Stevens brought up another property during a June 21 meeting.
“I have a problem in my district,” Stevens said. “I’ve had a lot of citizens complain to me, and … we don’t really know how to handle it. It’s a house on Barrington Ferry Road.”
While Stevens used discretion, he was speaking about a home near Riceboro that is surrounded with chicken wire and mud scaffolding.
Commissioner Gary Gilliard asked whether any government orders can prevent someone from making such modifications to his or her own property. That’s where codes and ordinances — like the ones that led to the order of enforcement — come in.
“It’s an eyesore for the entire community,” McIver said about the Barrington Ferry home.
Stevens on Tuesday asked for an update on the property. Mullins said his supervisor, Paul Zechman, is working on the issue.
On the Islands Highway property, Mullis and said the earliest complaint dates back to 1994 — and a series of court proceedings, county ordinances and an order from Chief Magistrate Melinda Anderson grant the BoC authority to act.
The property owner, Richard H. Gamble, reportedly does not live there, but a tenant does, Mullis said. Neither Gamble nor the tenant was present at the meeting.
“We’ve had a hearing with both of them, and the man that lives on the property has actually been to jail for failure to comply with the judge’s order on the property,” Mullis said.
The men reportedly appeared before an officer on May 14 and were issued a 60-day order for corrective action. Mullis said the men had almost 90 days to act since the order was not signed until June 5, but so far have failed to comply.
Faye Lowery, who lives in an adjoining property on Beulah Road, said before the meeting that Mullis is her hero for taking steps to get the land cleaned up.
“Since 1993, I have been a relentless little booger,” she said about her complaints to the county. Now, she looks forward to watching the cleanup.
Coastal Auto Salvage agreed to collect the cars at no cost to the county, Mullis said.
But because county employees will need to dedicate time to the land, the motion included authorization for County Administrator Joey Brown to negotiate with the business over proceeds from the sale of scrap metals collected from the site.
“There’s a lot of aluminum cans, there’s metals, and with it grown up like it is, … you don’t really know what all is there until you get in there and you start dragging that stuff out,” Mullis said.
“It’s just so junky, we need to walk through it one step at a time,” Brown said.
Commissioner Pat Bowen said he finds it hard to believe the owner did not want to oversee removal firsthand and asked about the county’s liability for taking vehicles from the property.
“So long as the requirements of the dilapidated property ordinance are followed … you really have no liability,” county attorney Kelly Davis said.
Bowen asked how many vehicles can legally be kept on the property. Mullis said to be kept legally, a vehicle must be registered and current on taxes, unless it is being restored, in which case it must be indoors.
Once the property is cleared, Mullis still will be responsible to ensure it does not become cluttered again. If it happens, the men would be taken back before magistrate court, where they would face stiffer penalties.