By Linda Looney-Bond
Clayton County officials may know within the next two weeks which vendor will handle the job of cleaning up and securing a vacant Jonesboro apartment complex where four fires -- believed to have been started by vagrants -- have erupted this year.
"In the next week or so, we should be able to determine where we're going to be, and how we're going to get there," said Clayton County Deputy Police Chief Greg Porter, Wednesday. Porter oversees the county's code enforcement operation.
Fire destroyed a building last month at the Evergreen Apartments, located at 555 Battle Creek Rd., according to Battalion Chief Landry Merkison, of the Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Department.
Merkison said there were also two fires at the complex in September and another blaze destroyed the clubhouse at the location in January. He said Wednesday that no fires had broken out at the complex since Oct. 5.
According to Merkison, the apartment complex has been vacant, at least, since January. He said the apartments were not condemned, but were simply left vacant, probably due to foreclosure. Merkison said the county is attempting to identify and locate the owner of the property. The last owner of the property listed in tax records is Norwood Associates, at a Stone Mountain address, according to Clayton County Police. Merkison said the company is out of business.
In the meantime, the county can choose to "force clean" the property, according to Porter. He said any action taken could include boarding up and cleaning the property, as well as possibly putting a fence around it. Porter said the county has received bids to clean up and secure the property, ranging from $14,500 to $81,000.
"This situation is pretty unique, because of the size and the amount of what needs to be done. We don't want to spend $81,000, and all we get is a fence around it," he said.
Porter said the Clayton County Central Services Department will choose the vendor that will handle the job, based on a bid process. "We want to make sure that the public knows that we are going to use due diligence in every situation, no matter how minor it appears to be. We want to make sure we cover every aspect so far as public safety."
He said the Code Enforcement Division has handled hundreds of "force clean" matters over the past several months. "We put in somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 force cleans since July, ranging from vacant lots, to existing residents, to commercial property."
Porter said the police department is keeping an eye on the Evergreen complex. "From an enforcement perspective, we have directed our units to continue to patrol that particular area. Our police officers know to go by there and pay close attention to the area, due to past incidents," he said.
Jonesboro chiropractor, Dr. Robert Alpert, whose practice is located on Tara Boulevard, near the intersection of Tara and Battle Creek Road, said last month that there had been an increase in crime in the area, which he attributed, in part, to vagrants coming from the vacant Evergreen Apartments.
Alpert said his practice has been located at 7202 Tara Blvd., for more than 15 years. He said he also owns, and leases out, a strip mall next door, which houses a grocery store, a church, an insurance firm, a tax-preparation business, and a hair salon.
Last month, he said there had been several break-ins at the strip mall since July. Alpert took his concerns to the Clayton County Board of Commissioners on Oct. 6. Wednesday, he said he has seen improvement in the area since then.
"I've noticed an increased presence of police. I noticed less break-ins -- in fact, I haven't heard of any break-ins [since Oct. 6]," Alpert said. "The police have come and left their card on my door, during door checks.
"I felt when I did go to the commission, I didn't really think anything was going to get done positively, but it did," he said. "I think, if they're [police] doing a good job, they should be told that, and I haven't seen anymore [break-ins] in my area."