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Vacant building ordinance touches nerve

SNELLVILLE - Snellville's City Council came prepared Monday night to listen to public input on the third reading of the city's proposed Vacant Buildings and Registration Fees ordinance.

Citizens were given an opportunity to voice their concerns at the last public hearing and council meeting, but councilman Bruce Garraway and others said the issue deserves more consideration.

"This has stirred a lot of debate and concern," said Garraway, who presented a slide show Monday night to lay out his ideas. Displaying several properties around the city in need of maintenance and repair, Garraway said his proposed ordinance requiring property owners to maintain and rehabilitate vacant properties is proactive in preventing city blight.

"The retail market in Snellville has the highest vacancy rate in metro Atlanta," Garraway said.

Responding to public concern about vague definitions of abandonment, harsher penalties for homeowners than for commercial property owners and an administrative nightmare, Garraway sought input from the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, Snellville Downtown Development Authority, Atlanta Homebuilders Association and other experts in the weeks leading up to Monday's council meeting.

"This ordinance may or may not be for Snellville," said Garraway, asking to table the issue until City Manager Jeff Timler could produce quantitative data regarding all affected city properties and the anticipated burden on city staff.

Marcy Pharris, who serves on the Board of Appeals, spoke against the proposed ordinance.

"Vacant buildings do not mean blight and decay. New buildings could fall under this ordinance the way it's written," Pharris said.

Pharris also objected to City Attorney Thomas Mitchell assisting Garraway in drafting the document, saying that typically such ordinances originate with and are reviewed by the Planning Commission for conflicts and loopholes.

"This ordinance should be voted down. We don't need to spend more time and money on it."

But Garraway countered, saying, "The Planning Department has had ample time to review this. The council is the legislative body. I have never tried to cut off anyone's involvement."

DDA representative Jimmy Norton agreed with Garraway's proactive approach to preventing the city blight problem but voiced concern about the rest of Gwinnett County thinking that Snellville has a blight problem.

"What we're really talking about here is economic growth. We used to have too much, and now we don't have enough. The problem here is the (lack of) Sunday sales of alcohol. Mr. Jenkins, Mr. (Warren) Auld and Mr. Garraway, you guys are responsible for that," said Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer. "These businesses have moved to The Avenue at Webb Gin. We need to move forward and recruit those types of businesses that we want. We don't need another ordinance to hurt businesses."

Mayor pro tem Robert Jenkins took exception to Oberholtzer's remarks.

"Sunday sales of alcohol and extended hours were not on the ballot in '04," he said.

The vacant buildings ordinance vote was tabled until the May 22 City Council meeting by a vote of 4-1, with Oberholtzer voting against the postponement.

Two public roads

abandoned by city

Two city roads, Preston H. Mitchell Sr. Highway and Mason Terrace, were abandoned by the city by council vote Monday night. The two roads are rarely maintained and seldom used by residents, according to Oberholtzer.