City targets problem properties

Don’t mow your lawn? Leave garbage lying around? Got a few junk cars here and there?

Watch out.

As Bremerton readies to renovate itself, so-called “problem properties” are becoming the focus of attention.

Janet Lunceford, code enforcement officer for the city; Detective Wendy Davis, BPD public liaison; and Jeanni Johnson, zoning code enforcement officer, presented the dilemma of problem properties to citizens at local City Council district meetings last week.

At the meeting of combined districts 1 and 2 on Tuesday, April 9 (Council members Wayne Olsen and Cecil McConnell respectively), Davis, Lunceford and Johnson presented a slide show and talk.

Though the meetings and subject matter were announced in advance in local papers, the turnout was low — only about 15 people per meeting, said officials.

Most who showed up were neighbors of problem properties, causing one individual to remark that city officials were preaching to the choir.

A problem property is any piece of land or house that has been neglected, often lowering the property value in the rest of the neighborhood and at times drawing criminal activity, said Davis.

Such properties can be something as simple as an abandoned house with overgrown weeds, used by the homeless, to drug-distribution centers for methamphatamine.

Other problem properties may involve an overabundance of old cars, tractors and other equipment cluttering up the yard, or simply an empty, wooded lot serving as an encampment for the homeless. Loud parties and disruptive behavior toward neighbors can make a home a problem property.

Davis showed a slide of a kitchen in one home in which garbage was piled almost to the ceiling.

“There were thousands of cockroaches in this place,” said Davis. She showed another slide of weeds practically obscuring a house.

Bremerton code enforcement officer Lunceford and other officials say they are hamstrung in cleaning up problem properties by the city’s own outmoded laws, which call for many time-consuming steps and make it difficult to simply go in and force an owner clean-up.

They are working closely with new City Attorney Roger Lubovich, who’s last post was city attorney for Kent — a city with much more stringent laws about problem properties.

In Kent, owners get a warning, then are fined $500 a day for a period of time until problems are corrected. If problems are still not corrected, owners are fined $1,000 per day.

The Bremerton Task Force for Problem Properties places liens on properties, and after three years close on the liens, confiscate and sell the property, hoping to make back all the money spent on legal fees and running the task force.

The task force still has $200,000 worth of liens outstanding. But they eventually hope to collect it all, said Davis.

They’re forming a Citizens’ Committee on Problem Properties to help track down offenders.

Call Wendy Davis at the BPD at 478-5220 for information. Those in the county just outside city limits can call Kitsap County Code Enforcement Officer Eric Baker at 337-7181.

City officials are not shy about identifying current problem properties:

* The Merit property behind Lowe’s hardware in East Bremerton — “We found lawn mowers, old bicycles, and cinder blocks stolen from Lowe’s to make a homeless camp,” said Davis.

* 1009 Pennsylvania Ave. — “An abandoned house that’s become the hang-out for homeless kids in the city. Neighbors complain of noisy parties,” she said.

* 342 Bertha Avenue — “An example of a ‘slum lord’ home in which the landlord doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong,” she said. “He thinks he’s providing a service.” Davis said there are 50 to 60 such “slum” dwellings throughout the city. Such “slum lords admit they wouldn’t live there.”

* The Seska property — “It’s a five-acre junk yard we’ve spent five years in Superior Court trying to get a court order to clean up,” said Lunceford. The owner keeps appealing. “The city’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees ... I don’t imagine this one will ever be solved completely.”

* Anderson Cove — The problem is that “it’s 80 percent rentals,” said Johnson. “There are some good landlords who check their properties regularly. But some landlords don’t ... and many yards are filled with junk.”

* 1501 Snyder Ave. — “The landlord lives out of the area. We have a lot of drug arrests here,” said Davis.

* Jacobs properties — “One of them is a little cottage on a pier, leaking sewer into the bay. The owner was a drug dealer and he owns several other pieces of property. Lots of illegal activities going on here,” said Davis.

* The Empire Night Club on Pacific Avenue — “There’s a lot of fights going on there .... It’s the regular bar (problem) only a little worse,” she said.

* Other problem properties or areas listed were 114 Lebo Boulevard and 1501 Snyder Ave.

“For (every) property we’ve listed here,” said Davis, “there’s a hundred more out there just as bad.” Citizens lodged 900 complaints last year.

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