Blight bill awaits Gov. Deal’s signature

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The "blight bill" is now on Governor Nathan Deal's desk.

It's a piece of legislation Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach and council have been working to get passed for months. Working closely with the City of Savannah are several neighborhood groups, looking to revive streets now overrun with blighted properties.

In West Savannah, neighborhood leaders call Cumming Street one of the worst and a prime example of why the city government needs more power when it comes to leading the fight against blight.

"The thing is, if we can get one street at a time as far as eliminating the blight, I choose Cumming Street for that because it's one of the worst. We can get a lot done," said West Savannah Community Organization President Ronald Williams.

The City of Savannah is looking to House Bill 434 to reduce the time they are required to hold on to property acquired through eminent domain, from 20 years to five years.  Using eminent domain is a last resort, but city officials have said that's the only option they have left.

Also, the city isn't the judge, jury and executioner when it comes to taking a property over. Information will be presented to the Superior Court, who will then make the call.

A superior court judge would decide whether or not a blighted, abandoned or vacant property could be taken under eminent domain. Once taken, the municipality wouldn't necessarily have to wait to improve the blighted property as long as zoning regulations are followed.

Mayor DeLoach says Savannah isn't looking to get into the real estate business, but something must be done to turn neighborhoods plagued by blight around.

"We've lost that in a lot of neighborhoods. People have moved away. Older folks are there, but the places around them are falling in. And we need to get those communities back to being vibrant like they were twenty, thirty years ago," Mayor DeLoach said.

The mayor's office is working closely with the governor to make sure this bill gets signed.  In the meantime, the city manager is working on an implementation plan so the city can hit the ground running should House Bill 434 become law.

Williams has been a supporter for years for better blight control and has even taken area elected officials on tours to see the worst of the worst when it comes to blighted property in West Savannah.

"Anybody wouldn't want to live on a street like this right here, you know with seven, I think nine total houses that are boarded up. Nobody would want to do that," Williams said.

Donald Wilson, born in his Richards Street home 70 years ago, says he's in favor of the city having more leeway when it comes to turning blighted property around, so long as they ensure the look and feel of the neighborhoods stay consistent.

"People say well, they shouldn't take the people's property. But you can't remain the same, you must progress in some way," said Wilson. "This is exactly what we need, but we don't think this is what we need right now. But after you see it in effect then you realize this is exactly what you need."

If signed into law, the blight bill would go into effect July 1.

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