Lula hired its first full-time code enforcement officer this week in response to growth in the city and issues with derelict property.
Doug Forrester, who has more than 25 years of experience in law enforcement, is the city’s new code enforcement officer.
“We’re all about compliance; we’re not about fines,” City Manager Dennis Bergin said.
For example, Bergin said, if a house hasn’t had its grass cut in several weeks, they might get a courtesy notice, and most people respond to those notices within a few days, resolving the issue. Having a full-time officer will help the city respond to issues much faster, Bergin said.
“The larger we get, the more these issues are harder to resolve,” he said.
In addition to the new officer, the city is amending its “Lula Derelict Property Ordinance” to clear up language related to chain of command for the code enforcement officer and to give the city authority over properties deemed derelict or abandoned in court.
In the ordinance, the definition for property that is a “public nuisance” includes property that is constructed in violation of the minimum building standards in the city, property unfit for human habitation or commercial use, abandoned property or that which poses an imminent harm to life or other property due to fire, flood or other natural catastrophe.
The ordinance sets up a process for the city to intervene if a court orders them to make improvements on a property, and it gives both the city council and city manager authority over the new code enforcement officer.
“In the event that a property owner doesn’t improve a property that’s required by law then the city is ordered by a judge to make the improvements and a lien can be placed,” Bergin said. “So really this is a method of means.”
City Attorney Joseph Homans said other cities, including Buford and Braselton, that have adopted a similar ordinance have reported that it has been effective.
“The whole idea of this was to get to the abandoned properties in the city that are not only creating an eyesore but are creating a health issue and a public safety issue,” Homans said. Mayor Jim Grier said the city most often has issues with unoccupied properties. Derelict properties can affect the value of nearby homes, he said.
“Many times there are title issues with the properties, and we don’t know who to contact,” Grier said.
The City Council will give the ordinance further consideration in August, according to the city’s website.