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City targeting abandoned sites for clean-up

By By Thomas Tingle
Record Managing Editor
Madison Mayor Jan Wells said she wants to put an end to the growing number of abandoned homes, buildings and properties throughout the city that are overtaken by grass, brush and weeds.
Wells said she receives numerous calls into her office by residents complaining about the growing number of nearby homes and businesses in the city that are knee-deep in weeds and brush.
"We've identified several properties in Madison that are overtaken by weeds and grass and homes and buildings that have been left empty and neglected because the owners can't be reached," Wells said. "I'd like to put an end to this problem. "
Community Development Director Bob Atallo said the city does have a weed ordinance in place to address the issue. However, he said in speaking with some of the owners of the properties in question, the owners have told him – so what?
"As the city grows, violations increase also, but the situation is far short of an epidemic," Atallo said.
Atallo said the code enforcement officer has told him there are about 10 to 15 houses that have grass problems which are in foreclosure or with out-of-town owners. According to Atallo, those types of owners are "notoriously" hard to deal with in terms of grass complaints.
In enforcing the city's ordinances, Atallo said a warning letter is sent out first giving the owner 10 days to respond. Then, if the grass still has not been cut, personal contact is made.
"By this point at least 90 percent of the violations are corrected," Atallo said. "The few that do not comply are brought to the city court."
Atallo said his office receives as many as five to 10 calls per day regarding problem areas in the city.
When a business goes out of business and the property is put up for sale, while the property is up for sale and it is overtaken in weeds and grass, Atallo said owners are informed of the situation at least two to three times before fines are issued.
"With an out-of-state owner, you get into problems of interstate extradition and the city does not have that power, so it is virtually impossible to get them into city court," Atallo said. "Only the court can impose fines."

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