Overgrown Vacant Lots in Amarillo—A Code Enforcement Nightmare

The above lot is located at the corner of NW13th Street and North Harrison. I have lived within a block of this lot for over 8 years and every year, at least once a year, sometimes twice, the City of Amarillo has hired private contractors to mow this lot. Two months ago this lot was mowed at City expense and now, after all the recent rain, the weeds have grown back—some of them over 6 feet tall. Once again the City of Amarillo needs to pay to have this lot mowed.

There are scores of overgrown vacant lots all over Amarillo. Amarillo City Ordinance Section 8-3-118 says this: “it is every property owner’s responsibility not to allow grass, weeds or any plant that is not cultivated to grow in rank profusion on the property, along the sidewalk or street adjacent to said property or in the alley or easement adjacent to the property. A property owner is responsible for maintaining between the sidewalk and curb and to the middle of the alley.”

The above lot has an appraised value of $400. This year alone the City of Amarillo will spend more than $400 to hire private contractors to mow this lot. If the City has paid an average of $300 a year to mow this one lot, over the past 8 years the City of Amarillo has paid $2400 to mow a lot worth $400. Does this make sense? The Amarillo City Ordinance has what is called “due process” procedures for dealing with the “public nuisance” of overgrown lots. When the City become aware of overgrown lots, it must inspect the lot, then send a notice to the owner of record to “abate the nuisance” within 10 days. If the owner does not mow the lot the city can then do it and charge the owner. The owner is then sent an invoice showing the cost of abatement plus all administrative fees and demand payment within 30 days. If the invoice is not paid, the City can file a lien against the property with the county clerk and get what is called a “privileged lien” that is second to tax liens and street improvement liens. The City can then ask the City Attorney to foreclose on the property to recover, meaning the lot will be sold at auction. Again, the above lot has an appraised value of $400 but some lots nearby are being sold at asking prices of $5000.

So what should the City of Amarillo do about mowing vacant lots—over and over and over—incurring expenses far above the probable value of these lots? Is the City of Amarillo just enabling the owners of the lot on Harrison who apparently have no interest in assuming responsibility for the upkeep of this lot? Why should the City of Amarillo keep shelling out money for private contractors to mow lots? Should the City be more aggressive in selling these lots? Lately private investors have been contacting North side residents expressing interests in buying their properties. I am not sure what is behind the sudden interest in investors wanting north side homes other than to “buy low’ then rent them because of high rental demands. In any event, maybe these same investors will buy some of these vacant lots. In the meantime the City of Amarillo needs to rethink how it is spending taxpayer dollars to mow overgrown lots all over Amarillo. There has to be a better solution to the problem than what currently exists.

Copyright 2017 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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