The Dalton City Council unveiled the “Carpet Capital Makeover” Tuesday night at city hall in front of about 60 attendees. One of those attendees supports the stepped-up enforcement.
Joanne Lewis, a resident of the area around Valley Drive, said people who live in that neighborhood would welcome stronger code enforcement, noting that many of them are concerned about cars parked in yards or along streets where they aren’t supposed to park.
The police department is already heavily involved code enforcement, Police Chief Jason Parker said. He said the makeover plan calls for the police to develop a comprehensive plan and start systematic enforcement of building and zoning codes to catch problems early before they get out of control.
Parker pointed to the challenges the department faces, noting that Dalton has 10,000 land parcels containing 11,000 housing units. Parker said 52 percent of those housing units are not occupied by the owners.
But he said that far from detracting police from their law enforcement duties, code enforcement is a vital part of law enforcement. Parker pointed to the “broken windows” theory developed by social scientists in the 1980s who found that crime is higher in neighborhoods that are run down.
“What those neighborhoods are saying to criminals is, ‘We are open for business,’” Parker said.
However, Carolyn Roan asked how far the enforcement would go, noting that there is a “fine line” between a property that just isn’t kept up and one that is dilapidated.
Dalton Mayor David Pennington said that city officials realize that in difficult economic times some people may not be able to afford to keep their houses up. Pennington said city officials hope to enlist community groups to help those who are unable to keep their yards mowed or keep their houses repaired.
“We need input from the public if we are going to make this work,” Pennington said.
City Administrator Ty Ross said code enforcement is “the most crucial element” of the plan but not the only part. In addition, the plan calls for:
1. Keeping a close eye on foreclosed and abandoned properties and maintaining a list of priority properties.
2. Abatement and redevelopment. Ross said the General Assembly passed a law earlier this year giving local governments greater powers to create “land banks” and use them to redevelop surplus properties.
Sara Toering, a senior fellow at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion, and Christopher Norman, executive director of the Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority, gave presentations on land banks.
Toering said studies have shown that a vacant, foreclosed and tax delinquent building will drive down property values by 9.4 percent in an area 500 feet around it. She said land banks give local communities the ability to take control of those properties and redevelop them.
She said that land banks do not have the power to seize property by eminent domain but must buy it or have it donated to them. She said that, with the approval of the local school board, a land bank could forgive outstanding taxes on property donated to the land bank, giving owners an incentive to donate the property when taxes are greater than what they could receive by selling.
Toering said the law passed by the General Assembly earlier this year allows land banks to be formed by multiple cities and counties instead of a single city and county. She said the new law also gave land banks new powers to finance themselves through applying for grants or by the sale of property. But she said land banks do not have the power to levy taxes.
Phil Neff asked how much property acquired by a land bank is actually redeveloped and placed back on the tax rolls.
Norman said that would depend on what the priorities of the local community are and how they design the land bank.
Pennington said the City Council hopes to develop a plan for increased code enforcement over the next 30 to 45 days.
“The land bank is a little more complicated. We already have a land bank with the county through (the Dalton-Whitfield Community Development Corp.), but we need to see how the new law affects that and what changes we need to make,” he said.
Pennington said council members hope to have a plan for the land bank by the end of the year.