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FLAT ROCK — Flat Rock Village Councilman Jimmy Chandler once called a bank about the overgrown yard of a foreclosed house, hoping to prod the lienholder into cleaning it up.
"They wanted to know if we have an ordinance" to legally compel property owners to mow the grass, he said. "I said, no, we don't. Their response was don't call us back until you have one."
The Village Council is close to having a remedy for the recalcitrant or negligent property owner. On Monday, the board held a public hearing on its proposed nuisance ordinance, and heard positive remarks from residents. The Village Council will take up the ordinance for final passage this week.
Those who spoke during a hearing this month focused on an abandoned house on Boyd Drive that has been overtaken by a forest of weeds, brush and saplings.
Although the ordinance allows five residents to lodge a complaint about an unsafe or overgrown property, that alone will not result in a cleanup order from the Village. A complaint triggers a series of steps that safeguard homeowners' rights, said Councilman Ron Davis, who is a retired lawyer.
"It could be months before action is taken that would result in the demolition of a property, particularly a residence," he said. "That could take a year or more. This ordinance was designed to protect due process. It's more of a tool for the Village Council than it is a hammer."
The ordinance is more likely to be used as Hendersonville uses a similar law. After the code enforcement officer determines that a violation has occurred — in a yard choked with weeds or one piled high with junk — a recommendation goes to the Hendersonville City Council, which can authorize mowing or cleanup and in public hazard cases demolition. The cost is charged as a lien against the property.
In Flat Rock, a citizen-based complaint would go to the zoning officer then to a Corrective Action Hearing Board (made up of three council members appointed by the mayor). The property owner could appeal the hearing board's decision to the Village Council, and appeal the council's order to Henderson County Superior Court.
"Due process is all through this ordinance," Davis said.
Neighbors are concerned about a vacant house at 122 Boyd Drive that is overgrown. Owned by Ivan L. Causby of Fairmount, Ga., the property is assessed at $319,500. It has a delinquent tax bill of $2,824, records show. Causby was the caregiver for the owner and inherited the home when the man died, Village Council members said.
"I think the neighbors' concern doesn't have to do with the house falling down," said Town Administrator Judy Boleman, who is also zoning administrator. "It has to do with it being so overgrown that it's inviting problems."