|One of the dilapidated properties that code enforcement continued to ignore|
Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012
Below is the chronicles of the 4 year odyssey of Dr. Joe Holt and his wife Michelle Holt in dealing with the city of Augusta to enforce building codes on property surrounding theirs in downtown Augusta. As you will see, they mostly got the run-around from the city. During that time they endured numerous acts of vandalism to their property, costing them in the tens of thousands of dollars. As you may be aware, the residents of Harrisburg have also had numerous difficulties in getting action from the city to act on enforcing building codes. The following chronicle of events was sent to us by Michelle Holt. This is what hard-working, taxpaying property owners are having to deal with regularly with the city of Augusta.
Background of who we are:
Southeastern Family Institute was a non-profit started by my husband Dr. Joe Holt in 2004. This non-profit would provide services for the community in blighted areas as well as low income areas. Most of the clients would be families with children in foster care who need to full fill their case plan through DFCS and/or DSS in order to obtain custody of their children.
One building would be used as a visitation center for the children and their families and we provided supervised visitation. The other building would house the various groups and counseling needed such as anger management, substance abuse groups, domestic violence classes and parenting classes. There was a third building in our row that we were looking to acquire or lease and that building would house a teen shelter. We became a host site for Golden Harvest and Angel Food Ministries to serve the families.
Those needs were many and we had support of the local family court judges in town as well as DJJ (Department of Juvenile Justice). My husband met with all the juvenile judges as well as leadership in DJJ. We attempted to gain support through the community with media attention (See Augusta Chronicle story here) and even had articles written in the Metro Spirit but we never saw the support.
We gave our personal money into the projects and community. We asked for support from the local churches but were asked “what’s in it for us?” and the state funding and grants were nowhere to be found. The only funds used were funds from our own pockets. It would appear the consensus of so many was “NIMBY” and this attitude was reflected from local leaders as well as our local government with their lack of support.
The battle with enforcement of laws and codes:
Our battle with the city to enforce the created laws and ordinances began in 2008. Just months after we purchased our properties on 5th street in Augusta, Ga. we started making calls to code enforcement and when that didn’t create a response we then began documentation about our issues in 2008. Our neighbor Calvin B. Walker had several properties that were condemned and they all surrounded our block (441 Fenwick, 443 Fenwick, 438 Watkins and 448 Watkins). One of those buildings actually backed up against our property and our chain link fence was all that separated us from these eyesores. For years this went on and finally escalated in November of 2009 when our buildings were first attacked by squatters. It was not until I threatened getting media involved that I gained the interest of code enforcement.
Below is a chain of emails documenting our efforts to have code enforcement rectify these problems.:
This email was sent to Pam Constabile of code enforcement.
Sent: Sun, Nov 15, 2009 4:48 pm
Subject: Re: Help with facilities
Dear Ms. Costabile,
Almost a year and a half ago, my husband Joe Holt sent information to you via the emails attached requesting assistance in matters of which we as law abiding tax payers where facing concerning owners of properties in the block of 5th and Fenwick street who are not abiding by code and city ordinances on the upkeep of the buildings he owns.
This man (Calvin Walker) owns several dilapidated houses that surround our properties. We abide by the codes. We spend thousands of dollars to renovate our buildings and yet the owner of the dilapidated buildings does nothing about his and gets away with this behavior? Why is that? As per your response, someone was supposed to contact my husband and never did. This weekend our offices on 632 and 626 5th street in this area were burglarized and vandalized by squatters whom the Sheriff's office has knowledge of arresting before.
There is thousands of dollars in damage due to copper pipes and wiring being stripped from inside the walls of the building and underneath. In addition they stripped the copper wiring and pipes in the A/C units outside. The squatters also had dogs that they allowed to poop and pee in the rooms as well as tear up the wood trim around the walls and doors. The deputy stated the buildings owned by Calvin Walker are full of human feces and apparently these squatters/drug addicts are now moving to our buildings. We can't afford this type of crime as we provide services for probation and Richmond Co. Family court.
As taxpayers and responsible land owners it is not fair that some owners such as Mr. Walker are not held to the same standard and I want to know why? I am taking this to the media because this must stop and one way or the other it must be addressed. We have been more than patient for the city to do their job and enforce the codes to everyone and not just a select group.
I look forward to your response on this matter.
Michele T. Holt
Sent: Sun, Nov 15, 2009 8:29 pm
Subject: Re: Help with facilities
Below is the email Pam Constible sent to Larry Lariscy of code enforcement (we were forwarded a copy)
From: Pam Costabile email@example.com
To: Larry Lariscy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: E J Holt, Ph D <email@example.com>; Rodney J. McAmis <RMcAmis@augustaga.gov>; Robert H. Sherman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Tue, Aug 19, 2008 12:22 pm
Subject: RE: Help with facilities
Larry, Please call Mr. Holt and meet with him and be sure we are addressing the issues he is concerned with. I found several addresses you are working on behind his properties on the 400 blk of Watkins near Gordon Hwy. One you sent to Marshall Department to issue a citation to appear in court. Did they ever serve them?. I also see where we have ordered a title search for 438 Watkins. I will check and see if the law office has received the title search, If so we can try to bump it up to the next available court hearings for demolition. I will check and let you know. Please Keep Mr. Holt informed of your progress until the work is completed. His phone number and address is listed below. Once you have spoken to Mr. Holt please let me know status so I can report back to Rob. Thanks,
Pamela C. Costabile
Pamela C. Costabile
Code Enforcement Manager
City of Augusta Georgia
Now Rob Sherman, Director of Code Enforcement volleys it back to Pam Constabile:
From: Robert H. Sherman
Sent: Tuesday, August 19, 2008 11:50 AM
To: E J Holt, Ph D; Rodney J. McAmis
Cc: Pam Costabile
Subject: RE: Help with facilities
Pam, would you have an inspector contact Mr. Holt, and address the code issues. Thanks.
From: E J Holt, Ph D [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Tuesday, August 19, 2008 11:22 AM
To: Robert H. Sherman; Rodney J. McAmis
Subject: Help with facilities
I am the owner of 626, 632, and portions of 634-638 Fifth Street. The properties surrounding are falling down around me and now we have discovered a huge swamp of yellow jackets at the rear of the property where the properties come together. I have spoken with code enforcement about a year ago regarding the conditions of the facilities around me and now they worse and I do not see any efforts to improve or destroy the units, but I am harassed by yellow jackets as they reside in those unsafe facilities.
As a tax payer, I am hopeful that you can assist me. I am required to keep mine up, so how can the others walk away from the same responsibility. Please advise.
EJ Holt, Ph D
xxx Fifth St Augusta, Georgia 30901
706 xxx xxxx - Office
xxxx Georgia Avenue, Suite D North Augusta, SC 29841
Office 803 xxx xxxx Fax 803 xxx xxxx
On November 16, 2009 I received an email from Pam Costible informing me that they have taken a warrant out on Mr. Walker for violation of code enforcement policies. I was told in this email that they were giving him 45 days to clean and demolish all of his buildings that surrounded our properties. However this never happened, so I contacted Pam Constabile yet again (see email below)
Sent: Thu, Jan 14, 2010 10:13 am
Subject: Re: Watkins and Fenwick St
As of last Saturday there has been no movement in the process of taking down and cleaning the properties owned by Mr. Walker. We were told in the last conversation that Mr. Walker was given until the end of the year (2009) to address the properties and once again it appears either he has "political ties" or power that we are not aware of with his involvement in the Harrisburg renovation project to be able to ignore the courts order. It is extremely distressing for my husband and I to watch how we are being held to a different standard as other taxpayers. We pay our property taxes every year with out fail and try to offer Richmond Co. a better visual than what Mr. Walker promotes with his "eyesores". It is hard to lease our buildings when prospects can see buildings falling down around us. The failure of Mr. Walker is causing us financial harm since we can not get our buildings leased because of his negligence in taking care of his properties. Would you lease a building with those views?
Michele T. Holt
xxx/xxx 5th Street
Augusta, Ga. 30901
xxxx Georgia Ave.
North Augusta, SC. 29841
On January 14, 2010 I submitted another email asking what is happening with the complaint because as of that day, Mr. Walker had done nothing to comply with the orders. I also submitted an email to Dist 1. Commissioner Matt Aitken and Mayor Copenhaver:
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; MayorDeke@augustaga.gov
Sent: Thu, Jan 14, 2010 11:44 am
Subject: Fwd: Watkins and Fenwick St
Dear Mr. Aitken,
My name is Michele Holt. Below is dialogue that I have had with the city (outside of my husband's many conversations with the city as well) concerning property owner Calvin Walker. Mr. Walker owns condemned buildings that surround our Augusta offices located at the corner of 5th and Fenwick Streets. Our buildings are at 626 and 632 5th street and we have spent thousands of dollars out of our personal pockets to restore and revitalize that block. Mr. Walker however has been able to ignore requests and orders to clean up his properties for many years now and I want to know why?
We have suffered greatly financially due to Mr. Walker's negligence because we can not lease our buildings because of the view of his shacks. In addition we have had our office broken into (as recently as 2 wks. ago) because those offenders feel like since Mr. Walker allows vagrants to shack up in his buildings, we must all feel that way on that corner (as per the deputy who answered the call). I spoke with Ms. Costible this morning (she called me after receiving the below email) and I just asked her point blank, "Does Mr. Walker have some political ties that allow him to just be able to ignore requests to clean up his mess?"
Mr. Walker claims to be a pastor of a church on our block yet he also has contracts to benefit from in the Harrisburg revitalization/Laney Walker project (as per the article in Augusta Chronicle in December). Mr. Walker has approached my husband to let him through his "church" purchase the buildings we own. How is he able to do that? As you can maybe pick up by this email, that I am extremely frustrated at how we as taxpayers and property owners are doing the right thing and Mr. Walker is able to get away with his actions.
On Nov. 7, 2009 our buildings were broken into and vandalized causing close to $9,000 in damages (I have the estimates to prove my claim). We discovered that several people were not only stealing wiring from our buildings but living there during that week. They stole items we had stored from our plans to open a girls shelter and also used the bedding. To add insult to injury they also had pit bulls. Between the squatters and the dogs, every room had been destroyed with urine and feces (both human and dog). One of those individuals came back the following day and was caught trying to steal more copper wiring (my husband and a contractor friend yelled at him to stop) and when the man jumped the fence, he ran to Mr. Walker's church and yelled " he is going to call the cops". When the police arrived (even the detective who showed later) and questioned, Mr. Walker denied he saw or spoke to the man.
That is why we are living in fear Mr. Aitken, because we are constantly being attacked and Mr. Walker just ignores clean up orders. If it is true that he (or anyone associated with him) knows these people who are breaking the laws, then he is also in part accountable for our loss. Two weeks ago the electrician who was working on one of our buildings, called our office to notify us that yet again someone had kicked the doors upstairs in to one of our buildings. We now have A/C duct work pulled from the vents underneath the buildings (and once again another damage claim and more money out of our pocket).
Ms. Beard ignored our complaints during her tenure as we have been voicing them now for over 5 years. Mr. Walker has also promised to take care of his responsibilities and still nothing has been done. Please do not do the same.
Michele T. Holt
Southeastern Family Institute
xxx 5th Street
Augusta, Ga. 30901
If you notice my dates I reported that our properties were hit by squatters and thieves on Nov. 7, 2009 and January 4, 2010. Below is the next email I sent to Mr. Aitken, Mayor Copenhavor and the city:
; MayorDeke ;
Sent: Tue, Jun 8, 2010 8:23 pm
Subject: Fwd: Watkins and Fenwick St
Dear Mr. Aitken and Mayor Deke,
Below is an email I sent to you on January 14th of this year. Since this email the properties mentioned that my husband owns has had 4 more incident reports of thefts, vandalism and trespassing to include a break in Tuesday morning. I would say that for a property owner to continually be victimized over and over again is quite shocking, wouldn't you? I mean it has not been 30 - days since all of our A/C units were completely stripped and the outer core peeled away costing us thousands of dollars in damages and here we are again. This time we had our front window shattered and all of our Disney lithographs (over 14 total) taken and our property trashed.
We are a non-profit who at one time provided services to the community that assist families and children as well as our justice system. In May when our A/C units and wiring were completely stripped in both of our buildings (for the second time, the first incident occurred in November) our insurance agent stated in front of Scott Hudson w/ WGAC that we would be dropped if we filed another claim. Financially we are devastated. My husband and I put thousands of our own money into these properties to bring them up and revitalize them to offer the community services that were desperately needed. We have no money to fix our buildings and with this latest incident today, it is obvious to us as well as the RCSD deputy who came out today that someone is sending us a message that they want us to give up and go away.
We have the support of the Justice system in town. Sheriff Strength, Lt. Scott Gay and the deputies who have answered the multiple calls have done everything they know to assist. When they arrest people who are caught on the property, they are released the next day, and guess what...they always come back to our property. We have had the support from several Judges in the community who were a part of our dream of opening a shelter for at risk youth, but with no community support, grants or cuts in state budgets we had to stop investing our own money.
At this point I am deeply distressed at how we are continually victimized, and how we can financially continue. We are exhausted mentally and physically at what we as property owners have faced in the last 6 months. My husband's health has deteriorated due to the stress. I can only imagine how Joe Bowles would feel if he was treated this way over and over again, if after one time being the victim he felt he must take matters in his own hand. I don't blame him quite frankly...not after this.
When asked by the city (code enforcement) to assist in the case against our neighbor Mr. Walker, we were present multiple times...this meant taking our income we could have earned working and instead supporting the city. Unfortunately Mr. Walker was allowed to not show up several times and on the last time in May when he was arrested, he only spent a few days in jail and was given a pass because even today he has yet to do everything code has asked him to do on his properties. We forced the issue with Code enforcement today because we feel it is adding insult to injury to hold one property owner to a different standard than their neighbor. Mr. Walker has never been burglarized, his A/C units are still untouched while ours (that is protected by a 6 ft. privacy fence) gets vandalized continually. How would this make you feel? I would think pretty helpless and ready to give up.
It is sad to say this because I personally lived in Augusta from 1975 to 2000 and grew up in the schools here. As a small business owner and philanthropist, my husband and I have done what we could to give back. However, if responsible property owners like us are going to continue to be beaten down over and over again with thefts, vandals, etc....what is left for us to look forward to in downtown Augusta?
I realize that sending this really only means a venting session you may read and pass on or just read. However I feel my voice must be heard, it must be taken seriously, and it must matter. If Augusta is to be successful, then those things must not go unnoticed.
Michele T. Holt
I would also like to note that during the visit by Lt. Scott Gay, we were told that RCSD was going to develop a task force to combat the increase in metal crimes in Augusta. To my knowledge that “task force” consists of only ONE deputy and I believe this was nothing more than an appeasement position created. The only feedback we received from Mr. Aitken was a phone call stating how sorry he was for our losses and to keep him informed.
We never heard from Mayor Copenhaver. This is just a portion of our feedback and dialogues we made. My husband had repeated conversations with Rob Sherman, Larry Lairscy, Pam Costible, George Patty, as well as Sheriff Strength. Everything that comes to Augusta, the newest and shiniest building or development will soon become another victim to crime. We’ve seen it over the years with downtown, Regency Mall, and Augusta Mall and we will continue to see crime or the criminal element take over areas as long as the city continues to not make enforcement of laws and a strong law enforcement department a priority. And to those who think you can just move to Evans or North Augusta to get away from the crime, trust me it will follow no matter where you are. The only difference is leadership and how serious they decide to take protecting the taxpayers a priority.
Since that last email shown above we have been victimized another 5 TIMES!! which included the last incident report on January 5, 2012. It is interesting to note that Walker’s buildings still remain untouched. Below is the link to that coverage after I called Channel 12 and got support from Chris Thomas to cover the story since he was part of the news media who covered the last incidents with our break-ins and Calvin Walker.
Below are the links that covered the Calvin Walker issues w/ code enforcement and the LW/B development issues from 2010:
My purpose in sending this information is not to be a catalyst for more of the same. I am also not interested in being nothing more than an example to be used for personal vendettas or “bashing sessions” against our city leaders. What I am interested in is a movement for change, one that is proactive and not reactive. One that exposes the wrong in the system and with the information makes a positive change that benefits all of the communities, not just ones that are the most affluent. I’m looking for accountability and I do not support reliability on other people’s money. If I am expected by the city of Augusta to be a responsible property owner, maintain my land and dwelling(s) and pay my taxes and not create an eyesore for the city to complain about then I must look to the city and say, “do your part as well”. Obviously the city has not lived up to their part of the relationship. ***