Abandoned Home Cause For Concern For Berlin Residents

BERLIN – A resident asked town officials to intercede as an abandoned home on his street has become a safety issue.

Cape Circle resident Larry Smith approached the town council during Monday’s regular meeting and asked officials to do something about the house across the street from his. He says it’s overgrown with weeds, covered in mold and, with a swimming pool, poses a safety hazard.

Mayor Gee Williams told Smith state law didn’t allow the town to do much regarding the property located east of Route 113.

“We want to do everything we can within the law,” Williams said. “This is one of the cases where the law is an ass. Nothing is more damn frustrating than to see this happen.”

Smith told the council he was coming to them with his concerns because he’d called town hall several times but the house remained an eyesore.

“I was getting the runaround,” he said.

Smith said the town had mown the grass at the property following one of his calls but that it was again overgrown with grass. He said there was also mold on the house and a pool in its side yard.

“I think everybody here has heard of the Zika virus,” he said.

Smith said the unkempt home was lowering property values in his neighborhood. He said he’d sat through the council meeting and heard about various projects going on in other parts of the town while officials did nothing to address his neighborhood’s concern.

“It seems like it depends on where you live or who you are,” he said.

Smith also shared complaints about the condition of Cape Circle, which he says needs to be paved.

Councilmember Lisa Hall said vacant homes were becoming a problem everywhere as foreclosures had increased. She referenced the vacant houses on Broad Street and Washington Street that had been the cause of many complaints for years.

“I’m on the council and I couldn’t get anything done with the red and white house,” she said. “It does put down the value of your house. It is something we need to address.”

Smith said the town needed to start caring about the problem.

“I don’t think it’s a situation where no one cares,” Councilman Troy Purnell said.

According to Dave Engelhart, the town’s planning director, the problem house is owned by a bank. He said the bank had someone cut the grass sporadically and that the town had also cut the grass occasionally. He said town staff couldn’t address the pool or side yard because of locked gates.

Williams maintained that the law should be changed to give the town more authority to address situations like the one on Cape Circle.

“People took pride years ago,” he said. “This is a situation where property owners don’t even care about the property anymore. It’s not the bank down the street where you can talk to the board of trustees. It’s all strangers and people who live thousands of miles away. The law needs to change if we’re going to address this.”

Williams stressed the council could not change state and federal law.

“What is the average tax payer supposed to do if they come before this town and this board and can’t get anything done?” Smith said.

Purnell told him the council had gotten more done in the past eight years than it had ever before.

Councilman Dean Burrell told Smith town officials would look into the situation.

“We can sit here and talk about this all night long,” Burrell said. “You have your perspective and we have our perspective. You have been heard. We’ll look into doing all possible to settle your complaint.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.