City targets neglected properties to prepare for growth

CNj staff photo: Liliana Castillo Clovis’ Building Safety Director Pete Wilt said the city is working to contact property owners of abandoned or neglected buildings as the city prepares for growth.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

It’s often a slow and painful task — tracking down property owners, getting them to step up and take care of abandoned or neglected properties.

But it’s one Clovis’ Building Safety Director Pete Wilt is determined to get done.

Wilt estimates there are dozens of properties in Clovis that need to be repaired or demolished.

As the city tries to prepare for growth, improve quality of life and revitalize downtown, abandoned and dilapidated houses, well, “It’s just a blight to the area,” Mayor Gayla Brumfield said.

“It makes the community look like we don’t have a lot of pride in our community,” she said. “There’s private property rights, which I believe in strongly. But there’s a limit.”

Wilt said abandoned, unkempt properties drive down property values and spoil otherwise cared for neighborhoods.

It’s an important issue, he said. But a sometimes difficult one to address.

As a matter of strategy, Wilt said he chose to focus on a small number of properties initially rather than trying to take on the whole issue en masse.

“There’s probably a couple dozen houses that we can look at,” he said. “Right now we’re working on about five or six; any more than that, stuff gets lost in the flow.”

Wilt said owners often live out of town and have no idea of the condition of their properties or just don’t care.

And, in some cases, owners have so many properties they have lost track.

Wilt said it is his goal to either make these owners take responsibility for their properties or take legal steps to condemn them.

“It all really boils down to the property owners taking care, taking respect in their property,” Wilt said.

But it is time consuming. And it can be difficult for the city to step in and take control of problem properties, even when the owner is unresponsive, he said.

To condemn a property, “it has to be structurally unsound or pose a considerable health and safety issue before we can go tear it down,” he said.

As long as a property is sound, the most the city can do is require the owner to secure it and keep it trimmed and clear of rubbish and debris.

When he process begins to condemn a property, it takes time.

“If everything goes just bang-bang-bang, right in a row, we could get something done as quick as 45 to 60 days,” he said. “If a property owner disputes it or we can’t find them, then it takes a little bit longer.”

It is almost always a financial loss to the city, he said.

“Very seldom (does the city) ever get their money back for that. We have paid upwards of $8,000 to get one demolished when the lot is worth $1,000 at the most,” he said. “We only get pennies on the dollar.”

Recognizing the city has limits on what it can do and is bound by a legal process, Brumfield said the city’s beautification committee recently created a subcommittee to focus on nothing else but abandoned houses.

Their task: Coming up with abatement ideas.

Brumfield said it could be a matter of contacting owners and offering to clean up properties.

Brumfield said the sub-committee’s purpose is to, “come up with some ideas to move it forward.”