On Monday, Lowndes County supervisors agreed to hold a public hearing on a property complaint during their May 15 meeting while they approved ordering another property owner to clean his land within 30 days.
In the first case, property owner Richard Hutcherson filed a complaint against Christie Wooten, who owns neighboring land on 18 Daisy Drive. Her father, William Wooten, lived in a trailer on that property and has since moved it, county administrator Ralph Billingsley said, but the vacant property’s condition has deteriorated.
Hutcherson was seeking relief and wanted Christie Wooten to clean the empty lot of debris, which he said includes aluminum cans, plastic bottles, an old vehicle and other trash he believed constituted a nuisance to public health, safety and welfare.
William Wooten, who spoke mostly on her daughter’s behalf, said they had made considerable progress on the lot and that Hutcherson had done some damage to the property. Wooten said the trash was a burn pile and was 160 feet off the road behind a fence and not visible from public view. Wooten also accused Hutcherson of trespassing.
“I’ve got signatures of every neighbor that lives out there and every one of them had trouble with (Hutcherson),” Wooten said. “The neighbors said they would testify that they’ve seen him over there taking pictures himself where there is a privacy sign up telling people to stay off …He continuously seems like he wants to damage her property. As you can see, all the neighbors seem to have the same problems. You have 12 people who live on that road and I think every one of them has signed this.”
Board president Harry Sanders asked building inspector Charlie Culpepper, who had looked at the property two weeks prior, to come forward and report his findings.
“Those plastic containers have been there for quite a while. I’ve contacted the trash people to find out why they have not picked up the trash and they said it was because of non-payment and they tell me he has not paid in some time,” Culpepper said. “It is in need of cleaning up. Like a lot of places in the county, there are a lot of places that need to be cleaned up and I think it’s something we need to look at.”
Sanders then asked Culpepper if he had seen anything that could be classified as a menace.
“I think maybe the trash is an unsightly thing,” he said. “It’s not something we want left unattended and, like I said, there are other parts of the county that are the same way. Some of the grass is grown up. He has cut some of the front next to where the lot is. He has cut that but further from that, it’s just some old debris. To tell you that it is a life safety hazard, I can’t tell you it is. It’s just unsightly when you pass by and look at it. I think (Hutcherson’s) problem is he has several people to buy his property … but no one wants to buy it because of (the garbage on Wooten’s property).”
Supervisor Leroy Brooks asked the Wootens if they could access the area and bag the remaining bottles and cans.
“I’ve got someone who was going to go back there on a tractor but he says he can’t get in there,” Wooten said.
Hutcherson argued that there was a public safety issue in play.
“There was an old pool sitting there that had been moved and there was a hole in the ground about 18 feet in diameter and about 2 feet deep where that swimming pool was sitting down there,” Hutcherson said. “The garbage that we’re speaking of is still there. The garbage could probably be taken out of there. It’s just the case of getting it out of there. If he used the upper gate coming out of there on 18 Daisy Drive I don’t think he would get stuck.
“I’ve been working on this thing for eight or nine or 10 years. We wouldn’t have been here if the maintenance hadn’t been carried out on it like it should have,” he added.
Brooks said the board has limits as to what it could do.
“I’m hearing a number of things that’s being put on the table in terms of what may be a menace or what may be unhealthy or may not meet your liking. This board is restricted to the extent that we go in and do things on people’s property simply because there’s something that we don’t like,” Brooks said. “I don’t think the county needs to be involved in that, so at the end of the day the results of what may happen may not be totally satisfactory to you, but at the same time we just don’t have the open-ended jurisdiction to go in and start doing stuff.”
Sanders ordered Culpepper to revisit the property on May 14 and report back to the board the following day to tell them whether or not he had a finding that the conditions constitute a health hazard, which would give the Wootens enough time to do whatever remaining work is necessary to resolve the dispute.
The board also ordered Thomas Kyle, who owns property on 245 Belle Circle, to clean his land within 30 days based on the finding that trash there was so abundant that it spilled on adjacent property and that certain items on the property, namely old tires, promoted mosquito infestation and could be a refuge to rodents. Every piece of property deemed to be a hazard would be removed from the premises by county staff if Kyle fails to meet the deadline. If county staff are used to clean a nuisance property, the owner is billed for the services. The county puts a lien on the owner’s property taxes if he does not pay the bill.
In other business, the board authorized placing South Lehmburg Road on the State Aid Road Program and accepted the resignation of youth services coordinator Sylvester Harris and inventory employee Luann Lewis.
The board’s next meeting will be held Wednesday, May 15, at 9 a.m.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.