County seeks grant to clear blight from Blue Mountain, Saks
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Jul 26, 2013 | 3901 views |  0 comments | 52 52 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Run down property on Noble Street in Blue Mountain. Photo by Trent Penny.
Run down property on Noble Street in Blue Mountain. Photo by Trent Penny.
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SAKS — Calhoun County wants to eliminate slums and blight in poor neighborhoods to help motivate residents there to take pride in their community.

At a public hearing at Saks Community Center today, officials with the Calhoun County Commission, County Environmental Enforcement and the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission laid out plans to apply for a $350,000 Community Development Block Grant. If awarded, the money would be used by the county to clear some 150 lots of debris and structures in Blue Mountain and Saks.

“You go down any of these streets and you just see dilapidated buildings with roofs caving in,” said David Pirritano, Calhoun County’s environmental enforcement officer. “With this money, we’re going to go in and level and clean all these lots, and make that land something you can redevelop.”

The proposed cleanup, which would cover portions of the county south of U.S. 431, west of Noble Street and east of Bynum-Leatherwood Road, is the second phase of what the county calls “Project Neighborhood Pride.” The first phase began three years ago just west of downtown Anniston, where the county was able to clean more than 100 properties in a year and half, Pirritano said.

But there are many more properties in need of clearance in the second phase, Pirritano said. Through two days of surveying, he said, he’s compiled a list of more than 100 properties with blight, and expects more than 150 properties in the area are in need of cleanup.

It’s an area in desperate need of attention, said Calhoun County Commissioner Fred Wilson.

“A lot of times the owner died, or moved away and couldn’t sell his property,” said Wilson, whose county district includes the Blue Mountain area. “No one is really taking care of these places, and they get run down and dilapidated.”

And the folks who do stick around are those who don’t have the means to leave, said Robin Caler, a planner with the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission.

“Those are the real beneficiaries of this,” Caler said, explaining the project grants can only be used in areas where more than half the population has low-to-moderate income.

For that reason, Pirritano said, it’s really not the county’s concern who owns the property, which in a lot of cases ends up being banks that foreclosed on mortgage loans for the property.

“We’re not trying to help out the banks by just getting rid of the building for free,” Pirritano said. “We’re helping out that community.”

But it was difficult to tell today how much the public cared about the plans. Despite several weeks of advertising, no one showed up for the 2 p.m. public hearing.

“Unless it’s something really controversial, the public doesn’t tend to come to public hearings like this,” Caler said.

That might be preferable in some cases, Pirritano said. When the county held a public hearing for the first phase of the project three years ago, angry residents near western Anniston came out to discuss removal of polychlorinated biphenyls — a problem that had nothing to do with slum and blight removal.

If the project works the way it is intended, public interest will manifest itself after the properties in their neighborhoods are cleaned up, Pirritano said.

“Cleanup is contagious,” Pirritano said. “You see your neighbor’s property cleaned up, it makes you want to clean up your own place, and take some pride in the community.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development began awarding Community Development Block Grants in 1972. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is distributing $2.5 million of federal funds to counties for the grant this year. The deadline for counties to apply for the grant is Aug. 19.

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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