At one time, abandoned properties and structures were spread across Oakwood.
An effort started six years ago has rid the South Hall city of missing signs, overgrown weeds and broken windows, but the issue hasn’t left the city’s radar, City Manager Stan Brown said.
Oakwood started in 2013 with 20-30 properties it had identified as needing help and is now down to five businesses and four homes that it is “tracking,” he said.
“The majority we were able to get cleaned up either through people fixing their places up or, in most cases, it was buildings being torn down,” Brown said.
The city “basically made a spreadsheet … and started making contacts (with property owners),” he said. “Most of those (involved) an out-of-town owner, estate situation or foreclosure.”
Brown particularly recalled an old Scottish Inn that had become a haven for the homeless. Also, he said, the city had a building of its own that it tore down.
The effort was part of a larger initiative to spruce up the town.
“We’re just (trying) to make the right of way look better — mowing, litter control, trash pickup, that kind of thing,” Brown said in 2013. “And then ... we’ve tried to cut down on the number of banners and roadside advertising signs we were seeing.”
The cleanup involves violation notices and citations, but the city said from the outset it hoped to meet with owners about resolving issues, setting up an action plan with deadlines and following up on the “progress of compliance.”
That philosophy continues today.
“We put emphasis on working with the property owners to eliminate the problems,” Brown said.
City officials categorize abandoned properties as either on a “watch list” or in code violations.
“We don’t have anything that’s in a code issue right now, where it’s a safety issue,” Brown said.
Oakwood has gone through a spate of restaurant closings in the past couple of years, as eateries have either moved out of the city altogether or moved to a new building in the city.
Two former restaurants, Wendy’s and Checkers, sit vacant on Wallis Road, off Mundy Mill Road at Interstate 985.
“They’re empty, but there’s no issue (otherwise),” Brown said.
Pizza Hut is an example of another vacant business, but a “for sale” sign is staked in the yard facing Mundy Mill Road.
Also sitting empty is the old Sonny’s BBQ, also off Mundy Mill Road between I-985 and Atlanta Highway/Ga. 13.
Sonny’s franchise owner Ron Donley said in February he had been forced to close three of eight Sonny’s restaurants, including the one in Oakwood, “because we couldn’t get them remodeled in the time frame Sonny’s (corporate officials) wanted, so they have taken away our franchise there.”
Several success stories have emerged out of the cleanup.
The old Sam’s Club off Frontage Road stood empty before Northeast Georgia Health System moved in to convert the warehouse-style building into offices making up its Corporate Plaza, housing some 350 support services employees, in 2015.
In 2017, the nearly 40-year-old Smoke House BBQ closed down an old location and reopened in a building — formerly a Kentucky Fried Chicken — that stood vacant for years.
“If anybody goes over there at lunchtime, they’ll see how much use that place is getting now,” Brown said.