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Covington council discusses blighted houses

The Covington City Council spent a full day of work at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government in Athens during its 2015 retreat Tuesday, hashing through several issues for the city going forward.

Among the many topics up for discussion were planning and zoning, communications, Legion Field, strategic plan, branding and marketing, Christmas on the Square and more.

The busy day began with the issue of dilapidated houses as the council discussed some options for cleaning up the city from blight and overgrown property. Several ways were discussed, including using detainees to cut the grass and “slow the growth of the urban forest.” Assistant City Attorney Frank Turner then interjected that the only way the city could get the grass cut without going in front of a judge every time a house needed it was to take ownership of the property.
The council then came to a consensus on taking on properties that were gifted to the city. However, that is another issue that will need to be looked into by legal so a property taken on by the city is not looked at as a bribe, or that the city is possibly attempting to extort people or their properties.

“We do not need to look like we’re extorting property on a gift issue,” Turner said.

However, when a property is not turned back over to the city, the council is still working on ways to handle that particular situation.

City Manager Leigh Anne Knight brought forth for the council’s consideration an ordinance that Porterdale uses to address overgrown lots. Knight suggested an incentive structure for property owners to pay increasing fines in order to get lots back to code.

“That would incentivize people who don’t qualify to have their home torn down,” Knight said.

Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams spoke in interest of the incentive pay step program to help “set in motion steps to what is right.”

There is no time table set yet on when the city could enact any changes to the ordinance to try and steer the blighted house issue in a positive direction.

One area the council discussed that is currently in the works is the Legion Field, located on Mill Street. Pictures were shown to the council depicting the park’s fully constructed entrance way, covered pavilion and ticket booths. The next step is the 6,000 square foot multi-purpose building that some on the council would like to see a kitchen incorporated.
Fees for the park were discussed with possible cost of $400 for the building and field, the same as the rent for the community room at the Covington fire station. For just access to the field itself, the council could charge groups $50.

Future considerations

Discussion on possible future projects also came up during Tuesday’s retreats, with some on the horizon and other just being brain stormed.

First is the I-20 pedestrian Bridge slated for 2016, then the Pace Street corridor renovation, expected to begin in 2017, followed by an upgrade on Elm Street.

Other items to be considered, according to Knight, are an establishment of a grocery store downtown, pay-as-you-go meters, electric car purchases, electric car stations and an enhancement of Industrial Blvd.

Another possible big change going forward could be the City of Covington’s logo. Again Porterdale was looked at as an example, due to its use of the lofts and river. Covington’s logo is an outline of the county.

“When you look at Porterdale you know what’s there,” Knight said. “Their logo is kind of innovated in that it shows the river and the mill village. We kind of talked it over and kind of ran through some ideas.”

Three possible future logos, mostly featuring the Square’s magnolia trees, were presented to the council at the retreat, with mixed reviews. The city then decided to look into having a consultant see what could be done with the logo.

An aspect of the logo discussion also delved into whether the city should create a logo for the city itself and its utilities department.

“There has to be a connection between us as a government, and us as a utility,” Knight said.