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Overgrown lots targeted at meeting
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Porterdale city officials have drawn up an ordinance that would require owners of vacant lots to maintain them as if those lots were developed, a response to the overgrown condition of several lots in arrested development because of the housing crash.

The ordinance change would require all properties to be cleared of litter, large refuse, such as appliances or motor vehicles, and building materials, and to keep the lots free of "weeds, leaves, untrimmed grass, (and) vines." Currently, the city ordinance code requires such care for lots that have structures on them, but not for vacant lots.

"We had one citizen complain those lots needed to be clear cut because they were having problems with rodents and snakes and whatever. They'll make their homes in those kinds of overgrown field," mayor-elect Arline Chapman said.

The ordinance change was on the agenda for the City Council's regular meeting on Nov. 7 for a final reading and public hearing, the final steps before approval. However, there were not enough members present to conduct business, so it was not reviewed. It has not been voted on and is not in effect.

City Manager Bob Thomson said the ordinance may appear on the agenda for next month's meeting, but the items are not yet finalized. The next regular meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 5 at City Hall.

Councilor Linda Finger said she is in favor of the ordinance, but thought it should wait until Chapman and Councilor-elect Anita Rainey are sworn in after the New Year.

"I'm certainly of a mindset that anything that should be put off until January should be," Finger said. "The new people are the ones who are going to have to live with these decisions."

Several developers began construction on subdivisions on the western edge of the city, particularly along Crowell Road and Madison Way but stopped development or went bankrupt when the housing bubble burst in 2007 and 2008. Along Madison Way, some lots are owned by banks and some are owned by building companies, according to the Newton County Tax Assessor's Office.

The untended lots owned by banks or companies have become overgrown and are magnets for rodents and snakes, Chapman said.

The ordinance also specifically bans lewd houses, defined as being "a resort for purposes of lewdness and prostitution," malodorous properties and disturbing public assemblies. Thomson said those changes are not reactions to specific incidents.

This change would be the latest effort of the city to rehabilitate its image and the appearance and condition of a number of properties. Councilors and the mayoral candidates this fall included campaign promises to keep pressure on some landlords who do not maintain their properties, which the candidates and officials have said led to troublesome tenants and drug issues.

Earlier this year, the council considered an ordinance requiring property owners to register their properties and have them inspected every six months if they are vacant for longer than 90 days. That ordinance was not read or voted on, according to minutes from this year's City Council meetings.

The city has been struggling to consistently enforce its housing codes, including yard and appearance requirements, though some warnings and fines have been issued in the last year.