By Ed Brock
Looking across the street of her Talmadge Road home in Lovejoy at the land her family once owned is becoming more and more painful for 70-year-old Jane Hicks.
Standing in the lot across from her are the ruins of Lovejoy Homes trailer park, a place once considered by some to be unfit for dogs to live.
"It hurts. It's terrible," Hicks said. "It's an eyesore, it sure is, and it's dangerous to be going over there."
The trailers, or what's left of them, stand with their wooden beams exposed since somebody stole the sheet metal from their sides. At least two have collapsed and are nothing more than the roof laying on the ground and piles of refuse.
Friday will be the deadline for the property's owner, Todd Hogan of Crown Pt. Properties,LLC, to clean up the old remnants of the park. That deadline was set at the Jan. 27 Lovejoy City Council meeting in which the council also rezoned the property for single-family residential use against Hogan's wishes.
But everything the city has done with the park has been against his wishes, Hogan said, and so long as the city continues to deny him the right to make good use of his property he's not touching a thing.
Hogan is appealing the zoning decision. He says he was misinformed over the date of the meeting at which the decision was made and so he was not present.
Today his attorneys are scheduled to meet with the city's attorney, but Hogan said he's not expecting anything to change.
"I've been down this road before," Hogan said.
The road began in February 2000 when Hogan bought the trailer park, and even then it wasn't in very good shape.
"It was not a good mobile home park," Hogan said.
At one point the Clayton County Humane Society was doing its best to rescue several dogs living in the park.
Some of the trailers had holes in their side that were big enough to see through and the residents complained of numerous other repairs that were never done. A sewer pump leaked constantly.
Then in May 2001 county building inspectors under contract with the city moved in and essentially shut the park down.
"They did a trailer by trailer inspection and asked me to rectify everything on their list and it would be back in compliance," Hogan said.
The residents were asked to leave. Hogan went to the bank to get the money to "make this place a nice place" to comply with the inspectors' instructions. He borrowed around $851,000 and closed on that loan in July 2001.
"That would be enough to pay off the old loan and give me a good bundle of money to make these improvements," Hogan said.
He fixed the sewer pumps first and worked on some other repairs in October 2001. Then in February 2002 he got seven permits and purchased a new business license so he could really get to work on the repairs.
Then on March 14 the city issued a stop work order.
"They were trying to go in and piece-meal those trailers back together," said Lovejoy Mayor Joe Murphy, adding that Hogan did not have the proper documentation from the trailers' manufacturers. "You have to put them back together according to manufacturer's specifications."
Hogan said he was never informed about a lack of documentation, but was only told he would have to meet the city's new codes. Hogan insists that he is "grandfathered in," meaning he owned the park before the current code book was passed so he doesn't have to meet the new codes.
After the stop work orders came down Hogan said he complied for a while, then tried to go back to work in June for a while until city officials again intervened.
"They came out and I was on site and instead of writing me a ticket, the owner, they wrote four tickets to the subcontractors," Hogan said, saying that was a "specific jab" at the subcontractors.
Eventually the city even got a restraining order prohibiting Hogan from coming on the property.
But in the intervening years between then and the January meeting Hogan and the city wrangled over what could be done with the park. Hogan even looked at putting apartments on the property but finally decided that he would not be able to put enough units there to make that a feasible option.
The rezoning and order to clean the property came at a time when Hogan and his attorney Teresa Weiner had made that fact known and had said they would need to go back to putting a trailer park there. Weiner said she had talked to the city's attorney and thought they had a meeting set up with the council for Jan. 28, the day after the council meeting actually occurred.
Hogan said he needs to do something to make the land work for him. While he loses money to theft and lack of use, he still owes the bank more than $800,000.
The most important thing to the city right now is to get the property cleaned up, Murphy said, even if the city has to foot the $40,000 to $50,000 estimated cost.
"We're not out to try to break Mr. Hogan," Murphy said. "We want to get a trailer park there or whatever we get there, that everybody can live with."