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The city of Decatur received two complaints about the clutter around this home on Sherman Street Southeast.
Daily photos by Jonathan Palmer
The city of Decatur received two complaints about the clutter around this home on Sherman Street Southeast.

Neighborhood blight generates complaints
Homeowners clean junk-filled porch at city’s request

By Chris Paschenko

After two warnings from the city, a Decatur couple have cleaned up their formerly junk-filled porch, leaving a pair of guard dogs and a no-trespassing sign.

Decatur’s Community Development Department received two complaints this month that John and Darlene Fuller’s home at 1504 Sherman St. S.E. was an eyesore.

City leaders were concerned that the neatly stacked piles of junk — like yard tools, bicycles, a computer and two tables of trinkets — were a blight on the community, affecting property values just two blocks from the city’s historic district.

Decatur Mayor Don Kyle said he received a complaint from someone who drove by the house earlier this month, so he decided to investigate.

“It almost looks like a yard-sale setup,” Kyle said. “That kind of front porch is specifically forbidden by the city’s ordinance covering junk, litter and weeds. Hopefully, our tour guides will stay away from that part of Sherman Street.”

John Seymour, president of Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, said that kind of community blight deters growth by turning off potential residents, including those moving to North Alabama as a result of the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure project.

“People ask what they can do to help BRAC,” Seymour said. “One of the things is to take care of your property. Certainly appearance and promoting beautification is important when recruiting industrial and business growth.”

David Lee, a Decatur code-enforcement officer, said an inspector acted on Kyle’s Feb. 2 inquiry. Lee said the city sent a notice to the Fullers on Feb. 6.

After The Daily inquired Thursday about the blight, Lee went to the residence that afternoon and explained the city could levy fines against the homeowners if they failed to comply with the abatement notice.

“I visited the lady and asked if she would get to work on it, and she indicated she would,” Lee said. “In the 17 years I’ve been on the job, I can’t think of another person who said, ‘Hey, if you just come back next week I’ll have all the stuff moved or put in a rental facility.’ It just never happens.”

Following Lee’s Thursday visit, Darlene Fuller told The Daily she and her husband would clear the porch Monday, but the Fullers had the junk removed by Friday morning.

She said the couple had recently dealt with a crisis in their lives. She said they live on disability income and that her husband searches Decatur alleys for discarded items he deems salvageable.

“We usually don’t let it sit too long,” she said. “We don’t have the money to go to court or pay a fine.”

Widespread problem

Lee said Decatur issued 3,776 weed, junk and litter notices in 2006, but the problem is not unique to the River City.

Huntsville Community Development Director Jerry Galloway said his department has four code inspectors assigned to issue notices, four legal officers who build cases for a weekly environmental court and part-time employees assigned to identify homeowners through county property-tax records.

The homeowners tidied up the place, below, after being confronted by city officials
The homeowners tidied up the place, below, after being confronted by city officials
At about 166,000, Huntsville’s population is roughly three times that of Decatur’s.

“It got to be too much of a burden, and we were getting tied up,” Galloway said, of researching property titles. “Too many weren’t valid and (having part-time workers) saves time.”

By comparison, weed, junk and litter violations have increased from 2005 to 2006 in Madison and Decatur, and Huntsville’s notices have remained steady, officials said.

Madison employs two code-enforcement officers. Kyle said Decatur has six, after the City Council approved the hiring of three additional code-enforcement officers in 2005.

Increasing enforcement

“I think we’ve got more inspectors than typical for a town of this size,” Kyle said. “The number of abatements has gone up the last 12 months, because we’ve taken an aggressive attitude on the weed, junk and litter ordinance. Now we’ve got the new landlord-tenant agreement, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Kyle said the code-enforcement officers perform “sweeps” through the city to remind people of the ordinance.

Lee opened city file drawers containing street addresses that have had multiple notices. Notices are issued to the same address more than once for different reasons, including when new tenants move in.

“Some are slow learners, and receive notices again and again and again, but we can’t let them off and let it reduce the property value for the people next door,” said Kyle.

Real estate agent Stanley Glenn, who has marketed a lot next to the Fullers’ home, said the property would be more attractive for development if the home’s porch were devoid of junk and if cars weren’t parked on the vacant lot.

As for the guard dogs, Darlene Fuller said her male and female boxers protect their home from criminals. She said Thursday that she had eight boxer puppies for sale.

Exactly how pervasive are incidents of crime in the Fullers’ neighborhood? Police received two theft calls from the residence since 2001, but a nearby apartment building has generated 24 calls in the same time period, including two burglaries, four thefts from vehicles, suspicious activity, and a harassment and animal control call.

Darlene Fuller said no one has ever broken into her home from the front door, but she isn’t leaving her safety to chance.

“There’s a dog at the back door, too,” she said.

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