Vacant house draws residents' ire




Neighbors living along Gillespie Place are fed up with a long vacant house in their neighborhood they say is an eyesore and a potential health hazard due to the wildlife and vermin it attracts.

During a Tuesday night town hall meeting, the Garden City Commission got an earful about the house at 1107 Gillespie Place, which neighbors say has not been lived in for 33 years.

"I have caught 13 possums, 12 raccoons — they're tearing up the bushes on my porch — and I've counted over 30 turkey vultures. They're looking for food somewhere," Candy Gamino, who owns property next door, said. "You wouldn't want it next to you."

Gamino and other neighbors said they have called police in the past about people breaking into the house, and expressed strong concerns about the lack of yard maintenance and cracked sidewalks. Gamino said the basement of the house is full of cockroaches.

"It's disgraceful for one of the most beautiful streets in the city to have something like this," Gamino said.

Lindsay Byrnes, who has lived across the street since June 2012, said her main concern is rabies and other diseases that raccoons and other wildlife can carry, which threaten to expose her children and neighborhood kids.

Byrnes said raccoons carry a parasite that's left in their urine and feces, and she's concerned about the animals leaving waste in children's sandboxes and a playground area in a nearby park.

"I don't see another place where they could be lodging," she said. "It's an eyesore and a safety concern."

Another neighborhood resident, Kevin Campbell, said homeowners are nearing the point of pursuing litigation over the issue.

"I don't mean this as a threat, but all of us in Gillespie Place and some of the neighbors behind us, if we can't find common ground to get this resolved, we're going to bring action against the city in some shape or form," Campbell said. "I don't know how yet. We haven't got into detail on that. But we just can't exist like this any longer."

Campbell said safety is a major concern. The neighborhood is home to families with small children. He said there are two families of owls in addition to the flock of turkey vultures that have set up near the house to go after the raccoons and possums.

"We have varmints running rampant through this home," he said. "We've got a wonderful zoo; we don't need an ecosystem on Gillespie. There's gotta be a way to come up with a solution. It's gone on far too long."

Matt Allen, city manager, said the city shares the neighborhood's concerns. He said the property has consistently been cited for violations by the city every year for at least the past five years for its condition. However, Allen indicated the city is limited in the steps it can take under existing ordinance.

The city has a nuisance ordinance that addresses property upkeep and allows properties to be cleaned up with the costs passed on to the owners, and it also has code covering dilapidated structures, but the Gillespie property isn't considered dilapidated under the code's definition.

In 2009 and 2010, the city pursued a dilapidated structure violation for broken windows and unlocked doors at the house, but both were corrected, which brought the property into compliance.

According to a city agenda from July 2010 that included an item addressing problems at the residence, the listed owners were Samuel E. Alsop, Jr. and Rita Alsop.

Unfortunately, Allen said there doesn't appear to be a "silver bullet" to address the house.

"I'd be willing to bet everybody on the block is upset about it. It doesn't change the code or enforcement power of the city. But democratically deciding to go take property ... isn't one of the powers that exists," he said. "We'd like nothing better than to see this problem go away. It's chronic."

Commissioner Dan Fankhauser said the commission may need to get Randy Grisell, city attorney, involved in looking for potential legal solutions.

"I don't know what we can do, unless we change something in code," Fankhauser said.

Regarding animals, Allen said the city and animal control can take more aggressive steps.

"I do think we can be more responsive in that area," he said. "We can bring another part of city government in. That certainly is a public safety element. If there's a way to do something different with the property, we'll explore it."

The Gillespie Place house was the main topic brought up during the town hall. Gamino also raised concerns about two churches located along Main Street that aren't zoned as churches: Mt. Zion, in the 600 block, and Iglesia del Senor, at 702 Main.

Both properties are becoming nuisances, Gamino said. She said she's called the police 14 times about the property at 702 Main due to loud music that often plays until after 2 a.m. She said the other property has a tarp over the windows and a beehive on the property.

Code enforcement has issued letters to the owners of those properties informing them of code violations, and the fact that the way the properties are being used is non-compliant under zoning ordinances.

Allen indicated staff will prepare an update on the status of code enforcement activities at next week's city commission meeting.

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