Clayton needs to crack down on dilapidated houses.
At least that’s what staff told the Town Council at its annual retreat on Thursday.
Councilmen, however, weren’t sold on the idea.
At the retreat, Town Manager Steve Biggs said he’d give Clayton an “F” on housing enforcement. He said the inventory of damaged, abandoned houses is larger than people think.
Because town inspectors spend most of their time on new construction, they don’t give as much attention to crumbling homes. But Planning Director Dave DeYoung said he has a possible solution – putting housing enforcement under his department.
DeYoung said the planning department, which already handles zoning and nuisance enforcement, could hire a staff member solely focused on enforcing minimum housing standards.
Buildings that are eyesores hurt the town’s brand, DeYoung said, just like the lack of Clayton logos and wayfinding signs. He said if stricter enforcement prompts owners to repair or demolish buildings, that can have a ripple effect.
“It will help redevelopment opportunities,” DeYoung said. “It all outweighs the initial impact to get this up and running."
Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod said he wasn’t sure about that.
In parts of town where owners have rehabilitated buildings, the work made sense financially, McLeod said. Even if the town condemned more property, the mayor said he wasn’t sure if residents would have the money or means to do it.
“You aren’t going to get people to take down their stuff and then have somebody spend $75,000 to build a small house,” McLeod said.
The town demolished an old store earlier this year after the owner didn’t act when inspectors condemned the building in 2012. It cost Clayton more than $30,000 to raze the former Red & White store, a cost that will become a lien against the property.
Some councilmen said they were worried about how the town would afford a new staff member dedicated to housing enforcement. However, Councilman Butch Lawter said he saw DeYoung’s point.
“You stand zero chance of redevelopment with those houses sitting there,” Lawter said. “Tearing them down, you have some chance.”
Fourth of July
Other issues discussed at the retreat included the town’s Fourth of July celebration, which might be held at Municipal Park for the last time this year.
The celebration, which draws thousands of people to town each year, will have to cut its large fireworks display or move once developer Reid Smith starts building his ParkView subdivision nearby.
Town staff say Municipal Park is ideal for the celebration and fireworks, as it has plenty of parking and sits on top of a hill. They’re not sure if another park will do the job.
Municipal Park is located next to City Road, not far from Clayton’s historic downtown area. Councilman Butch Lawter said he’d hate to see the event move.
“It’s the whole downtown dynamic that’s going to change,” Lawter said.
The Fourth of July celebration, which costs more than $20,000, is the largest town-sponsored event all year.
Councilman Bob Satterfield said he had a solution – “don’t do the fireworks.”
The Clayton Police Department will seek a gold-level accreditation rating this July. That’s higher than the department has sought before.
The reaccreditation, which is required once every three years, will take place through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. After Clayton police conduct a self-assessment, CALEA staff will assess the department’s operations and compliance with standards. It will also conduct a public information session.
The commission will then review the department’s report card and decide if it’s worthy of accreditation.
Detective Nancy Galleo was handling reaccreditation for the department, until she resigned earlier this month without explanation.
“That’s one of the challenges we’re facing is that she was doing it, and now we are having to train someone else on that,” Clayton Police Capt. Jon Gerrell said.
Police Chief R.W. Bridges said while the accreditation is tougher because of the gold-level standard, he thinks the department will get the most out of it.
“We can think we are doing a good job, but until you have someone completely unattached come in, you don’t really know,” Bridges said.
An electrical substation the town will build to serve a growing part of Clayton will cost $6.5 to $7 million.
Utilities Director Dale Medlin said about $3 million of that will likely come out of the 2015-16 budget.
The substation will be located near the Ashcroft subdivision off of O’Neil Street. Medlin said the substation will service Ashcroft but also larger planned subdivisions on the north side of town, including the proposed 2,200-home Steeplechase neighborhood.
“It really gives us flexibility on our power grid,” Medlin said. “We feel like this is something that’s needed in the future.”
Fire Chief Lee Barbee said Clayton might one day need a fire station outside the town limits.
The Clayton Fire Department serves the Claytex Fire District, which stretches farther than the town’s corporate boundaries. Barbee said firefighters need to provide an equal level of service to those areas outside of town.
“The goal is to reduce response times,” Barbee said. “The way we do that is to put a station in that area.”
In addition to quicker response times, a new fire station could lower insurance rates for some homeowners in the Claytex Fire District.
The creation of a historic preservation district might be a long way off.
The Clayton Historical Association has suggested the town set up a preservation district to better regulate and protect old buildings. But multiple councilmen on Thursday said a preservation district wasn’t on their to-do list.
“I’ve got so many other priorities on the table, it’s not up there,” McLeod said.
The idea of a preservation district surfaced recently, when Horne Memorial United Methodist Church asked to rezone an old parsonage. The church ultimately withdrew its request after meeting opposition from neighbors and Clayton’s Downtown Development Association.
McLeod, who lives in a historically significant neighborhood, said he’s concerned that in many preservation districts, homeowners are “regulated to death.”
“If council does decide to do this, I think we need more education about what historic preservation is all about,” the mayor said.
Councilman Butch Lawter agreed. “I don’t like the fact that I will be regulating what Jody can do with his house,” he said.
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104