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Property owner questions abatement process

The Andalusia City Council discussed a dangerous property abatement during a meeting this week, but after hearing from the property owner decided to wait until the next council meeting to take further action.

According to city officials, the abatement process for the property located at 201 College St. began in 2019. After following protocols to contact the property owner and providing public notice, the property came to the council Tuesday for final abatement approval.

The property was described by city officials as being in a state of “severe disrepair” and that it did meet the abatement standard of posing a threat to public health and welfare.

The property owner, Elrand Denson, spoke at the meeting stating he understood the problems with the building, but that he questions the process.

“I’m not here in debate of what the property looks like. I purchased the property with plans to do something with it, but over the years I have not been able to facilitate that. I live in Washington, D.C. and don’t have the opportunity to come to Andalusia very often. So when I do get down here I work on particular pieces of property. This is one I wanted to do some work on,” Denson said.

The property owner said he feels certain properties are being demolished through the abatement process based on where they are located and who lives in those neighborhoods.

“The issue to me is not this particular piece of property. The problem I have is the process for the abatement,” Denson said. “I’ve been working from home for the past three months and it has given me the opportunity to ride around and see where all these properties are. There are numerous structures that look just like this one, or even worse.

“I look at the abatement done next door to my piece of property that was torn down. I look at a property on N. Cotton Street that was torn down. I look at the property on Tucker Street and that was torn down. I look at the building on Henderson Street across from the stadium that was torn down. All these places come back to one central point. Those are where African-Americans live. In other areas where there aren’t African-Americans, I can see these same type structures, but I don’t see this particular process being moved to that arena. If the city wants to go through this abatement process, I think it needs to spend the time and the money to do it holistically across the entire city so that no one feels they are being discriminated against. I’m not arguing to keep this particular structure, but I am arguing for doing things fair and just.”

Denson also said that during his time back in his native Andalusia that he has experienced other forms of unjust treatment, including being questioned by police about a burglary while he was taking a nighttime walk downtown. “They told me they were just doing their job, but it didn’t feel like that to me. It felt like harassment,” Denson said.

Mayor Earl Johnson responded stating the abatement process is a long one and that only so many properties can be done at one time, due to staffing and the costs involved.

“The abatement process was adopted after a very long and thorough study back in,” Johnson said. “It is applied across the city, to all parts of the city. We do not have the staff to do everything at one time. We have abated quite a number of structures over the past six years and I don’t know whether they were owned by black folks or white folks, they’re just buildings that have come before us.  We have a number of properties that are in line to come before us for abatement in the same manner that this one was brought before us. I couldn’t tell you today who owns those properties.”

Denson said he would be willing to discuss with city officials what he could do in regard to the property. The mayor and council agreed to hold until their next meeting a final vote on demolition to see if an “enforceable” agreement could be reached.

The mayor did invite Denson to meet with him to discuss the other concerns he raised.

“What we are about here tonight is this building. All the other stuff … first time I’ve heard of any of it. I’d be happy to sit and talk to you anytime you wish to discuss these matters that you’ve brought to our attention. I will be happy to speak with you about those matters and if they need to be addressed, they will be addressed. I guarantee that,” Johnson said.

Other items discussed by the council included:

• approving the city’s participation in the Back to School No Tax Holiday. The state, city and Covington County have all approved participation, meaning no sales tax will be charged for specific items during the weekend of July 16-18.

• approving the expansion of the city’s historic district designation within the downtown area.

• approving a junk abatement for a property at 418 Second St.

• approving a donation of $5,000 to the Alabama High School Rodeo Association. The group will host their State Finals in Andalusia June 2-6, at the Covington Center Arena.

The next city council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 4, 6 p.m. at city hall. A work session begins at 5:30 p.m. in the downstairs conference room. The public is invited to attend.

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