By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin on Tuesday sounded off on “nasty” absentee property owners who are responsible for the proliferation of overgrown private lots in the city, he said.
The mayor addressed the issue of the overgrown lots both in a lengthy Facebook post over the Memorial Day weekend and again during Tuesday’s City Council regular meeting.
In his Facebook post addressing residents, the mayor said, “the city of Birmingham is not responsible for cutting private property…it is the responsibility of your irresponsible and/or absentee neighbor.”
To fix the problem of vacant and overgrown private lots, Woodfin wrote, “we need better state laws or more local control to hold these nasty, irresponsible, don’t care, absentee landowners more accountable.”
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Woodfin also said it’s time to “shift this energy toward the actual owner of the property.
“We’ll continue to cut as many as possible, but I believe the public deserves the hard truth: there (are) not enough public tax dollars to cut every private lot, and we probably can’t get to your neighbor’s private lot more than once in a fiscal year,” he said “… If it is left to the city, we will never be able to satisfy the public or the next-door neighbor.”
It takes between six and eight weeks of legal proceedings before public crews can cut individual, private lots, said the mayor, noting that grass often grows faster than the city’s legal process for declaring private lots a public nuisance.
Each time the grass on an individual lot grows back up, the same legal process must be restarted, Woodfin said.
Additionally, the city has issued millions of dollars in fees for nuisance lots, but millions of those fees also remain unpaid by property owners, the mayor said. Each year, the city sets aside about $1.5 million to $2 million for cutting private lots and those resources could be used for other city improvements, he said.
“Every time we use public tax dollars to go on a private lot to cut, we are taking public tax dollars from paving streets, fixing potholes and sidewalks. If we use our man/woman power and city crews, we are diverting them away from city property, city right-of-way and city parks,” Woodfin said.
The city will begin new “Take Pride Where I Reside” and “Adopt Your Block” campaigns, according to Woodfin. As part of the new campaigns, Woodfin said, the city wouldn’t stop neighbors from attempting to improve their neighborhoods themselves.
“I can tell you it probably won’t include us sending out the police if neighbors as a collective group enter empty lot/private property and cut it,” Woodfin said.
The mayor said public frustration about the overgrown lots is “warranted” and that it’s “passed time” to publicly shame “the people who own these lots because I guarantee you where they live it does not look that way.”
The “hard truth” is that the city can’t currently fix the problem by itself, Woodfin said.
“There are not enough public tax dollars to cut every private lot, and we probably can’t get to your neighbor’s private lot more than once in a fiscal year. There has to be a better way. We are in search of that better way(s),” Woodfin said.
Councilor Valerie Abbott agreed with the mayor, saying the city has been cleaning up other people’s messes.
“I’m glad to hear that we’re going to do a sort of a U-turn and go after the people who are really causing the problem because if I mow my grass once a year, my neighbors would kill me…and that’s all that we can afford to do in the city,” Abbott said.
Both Woodfin and Council President Wardine Alexander also said they were interested in organizing a town hall meeting focused on the overgrown lots and what residents can do.