City's blighted properties are addressed
Franklin Rotary Club heard Tuesday from members of Franklin Mayor Eugene Foulcard’s administration’s team that is implementing the city’s Blighted Structure Mitigation Project.
Foulcard opened the program with a quick look into how he views community blight, saying, “Blight erodes and eats away at a community like a cancer. So, I’ve been pretty aggressive with moving forward and taking care of that with some good, good people on board with me.”
Foulcard then introduced those who he called a “One-two knock-out team” addressing Franklin’s blight woes, Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Hildreth and Franklin Planning and Zoning Director, Permits and Inspections, ICC and City Codes Official and La. Floodplain Administrator Glenn Todd.
First up was Hildreth.
He explained the effects of blight, and why it is a concern for the city.
“My job at the fire department is delivering fire protection services for the community,” Hildreth said. “We have (in blighted properties) a target-rich environment for people to come out and to light these houses on fire. It is also a crime problem,” he continued, pointing to comments Foulcard made earlier.
Foulcard had said, “There are a lot of illicit things that go on in some of those dilapidated houses. Some people stash drugs in those houses. They break into other people’s houses and then hide what they’ve stolen in those houses (blighted houses). There are many illegal sexual acts that could occur in some of those houses. So, we are trying to eradicate that.”
Hildreth said that not addressing the problem of structural decay in the city would lead to neighborhoods where these structures are located, experiencing a “deterioration of social values, a curtailment of investment in tax revenue, an increase in criminal activity, and an impairment in investment values which adversely affects the quality of life of those neighborhoods.”
He said that those words were not his own, but those of the city ordinance addressing blight mitigation.
According to Hildreth, the reason the previous administration had such difficulty in blight mitigation was that they were paying for it with city tax dollars, with the costliest part of mitigating the city’s blight being the cost of doing away with trash and debris, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars in some cases.
To change that, the Foulcard team, through St. Mary Parish President David Hanagriff, saw a move passed through parish government which waived tipping fees for the duration of the project’s life. Which Hildreth said is set up to be a self-sustaining system until the list of all 209 properties is exhausted.
Hildreth explained that there are two criteria: The prospective property must be vacant and must have been vacant for six months or longer, and it must not have met the standards for condemnation (more than 50 percent of the structure is damaged).
Hildreth said the team went about securing the structures that met the criteria for demolition, and sent out letters to the property owners.
Of those who were sent letters, Hildreth reported 50 percent compliance, with 30 property owners who have come into compliance on their own.
Hildreth said he went to all the houses in Franklin which were condemnable, and tagged them with red tags. He further reported that once the red tags had been stapled to the properties, the team saw a drastic reduction in the problem they had experienced theretofore, that of property owners remaining elusive.
He also said there is a list of 10 properties which had been condemned by the previous administration, but went undemolished due to the cost. These, he said would be prioritized to be demolished first.
Since the Foulcard administration has seen the costs of demolition so drastically reduced due to the parish waiver of tipping fees, Hildreth said those ten properties will be razed within 45 to 60 days.
He further stated that some properties remain without evident owners. Those, he said, will be assigned a lawyer who will go through the proper steps in “due diligence,” to advertise for and attempt to locate the owners. If that process reaches completion without success, the properties will be auctioned off.
Following Hildreth, was Todd, who closed the presentation by adding that he and Hildreth work in conjunction to try to achieve for the city the project’s goal, to bring life and progress back to where there was before only blight.
Todd said, “There are people who are saving some of these homes, and that is the ultimate goal, not to have a lot of empty spots, but to have people investing back into their neighborhood, not just leaving it to blight.”
Hildreth and Todd were among those present at the Special Meeting convened by Foulcard with Franklin’s City Council Tuesday evening.
The meeting consisted of two parts, condemnation hearings and the attorney appointment order.
The condemnation hearings were composed of a dialogue between Hildreth, Foulcard and council members by which Hildreth explained, case by case, the property’s state, the status of contact with the property owner, and recommended specific grace periods before demolition.
Of the two listed property owners at the hearing, one chose to address the mayor and council, and that was Kevin Perro.
Perro explained the reason for not being able to respond to previous modes of outreach from the administration, and expressed that he would do his part to bring his property into compliance with city codes.
Foulcard and the council commended Perro for addressing the matter, and agreed to work with him to bring the property into compliance.
Hildreth and the council then went down the list of the remaining 18 properties, and council members voted on each property’s grace period allotment and condemnation status.
The grace periods for property owners to bring the property into compliance ranged from 150 days to 30 days, but the standard time was by and large, 90 days.
Here is a list of the condemned property’s addresses, and their corresponding grace period allotments:
—617 Third St.: 90 days
—614 Fifth St.: 90 days
—506 Sixth St.: 90 days
—104 Bud St.: 90 days
—1804 Canal Drive: 90 days
—607 Hamm St.: 90 days
—816 Iberia St.: 90 days
—606 JA Hernandez St.: 90 days
—611 JA Hernandez St.: 90 days
—604 Morris St.: 90 days
—411 Nora St.: 150 days
—1012 Oakdale St.: 60 days
—1025 Oakdale St.: 60 days
—1026 Oakdale St.: 60 days
—496 Oneal Chube St.: 90 days
—518 Park Avenue: 90 days
—511 Robert St.: 90 days
—502½ Sith St.: 30 days.
The attorney appointed to take the cases of property owners who failed to answer any attempt to be contacted, is Joseph Tabb with Baudry & Tabb, LLC.
The list was voted on individually by councilmembers, all in the affirmative, and is as follows:
—613 Pecot St.
—107 Bud St.
—1039 Cayce St.
—1803 ½ Cole St.
—313 Morris St.
—515 Oneal Chube St.
—411 Third St.
—1611 Tupelo St.
—613 Twelfth St.
—620 Twelfth St.