Walker County is attempting to go "Clean and Lean."
On Thursday, March 14, county officials will hold a second public hearing for their "Clean and Lean" ordinance, which would adjust the language in the Public Nuisance Ordinance of 2004 to give authorities the tools they need to deal with some of the blighted homes in the county.
The push comes partially as a result of the recently concluded community forums held throughout Walker, where citizens — especially those in Rossville and Chickamauga — called for county government to take action against the eyesores in residential neighborhoods.
Among their grievances now being addressed is the extended presence of burned-out and abandoned structures, a health and safety concern that the county's current land use ordinance does not give code enforcers the ability to remedy, said County Attorney Matt Williamson. The changes would classify fire-damaged and deserted homes as a public nuisance, enabling public officers to take action.
Modifications to the ordinance will also place restrictions on the number of inoperable junk automobiles homeowners are permitted to have on their property, dropping the number from two to zero, a suggestion that arose through the community forums.
The revisions also address the number of garbage bags homeowners are able to keep in view of those who pass by. The proposed changes cut the number of 30-gallon bags allowed from eight to three. Williamson said the county is also considering additional provisions that would require garbage bags to be placed in canisters, which would alter the number of bags allowed.
Residents present during the first public hearing on Feb. 28 spoke mostly in favor of the cleanup effort.
"We have junk automobiles completely filled with junk. So you have a junk item with junk items all inside it. That's terrible," one resident commented. "We're trying to encourage people to move into the valley, but whenever they ask where you live and you tell them, they say, 'Oh, is that down there by that house with all the junk on the front porch?'"
Another resident punctuated her approval of the soon-coming changes by adding that she had already begun to work to rectify some of the appearance issues at her own home.
"We are just here to show our support that changes are coming down the pike and that we plan to be involved in that," she said.
One resident, Gary Williams, pushed back against the restrictions, adding that the youngest junk vehicle on his property is a wrecked 2008 Nissan Quest, which he uses for spare parts.
"Not everyone can afford a new vehicle or a vehicle two or three years old," Williams said. "I bought it cheap and I have it on my property to use as a parts car, and I think I ought to be able to do that."
Williams also noted that it would be difficult for older citizens in the community to bring their properties into compliance. Walker County Commissioner Whitfield pointed out that for the last two years, community partners have been connecting volunteers with those physically unable to clean junk from their property. One of the larger projects was a daylong community service project undertaken by the incoming class of freshmen at Covenant College, Whitfield added.
Officials also reminded attendees that the ordinance is not set in stone.
"At this point we're in the process of figuring out what reflects the community's best interest from input from the community," said Robert Wardlaw, director of economic development for Walker County. "So anything that you see now is at the discussion phase to hear citizens just like [you] say 'I want this to be considered.' I think it's important to note that it's not a final product; it's in the making."
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