COPPERAS COVE — “From my front porch, you can look and see that old burnt house, and it is an eyesore,” Juan Tijerina said. “I couldn’t imagine what the people that live right across the street, who stare right into the yard, think.”
On the next street over from Tijerina’s home on Lazy Lane, a 0.03-acre lot sits vacant on Sleepy Hollow Lane. High grass and weeds take over the abutting properties, which are owned by Hal Schluter, according to the Coryell Central Appraisal District.
Mixed in with vegetation is construction debris, tires, mobile home rubble, discarded children’s toys, television and computer parts, broken furniture and other trash.
“There is so much stuff over there. … Trash people can get into,” Tijerina said. He called it dangerous and a nuisance.
Abating properties is Copperas Cove Code Compliance’s last resort to clean up city eyesores.
Officers said they prefer to educate before ticketing property owners to encourage them to remove their own junk, but sometimes the city must step in.
While neighbors said the Sleepy Hollow site was always unkempt, the property got worse after a fire destroyed a home in January. The owner then reportedly left town.
Since then, code compliance ticketed the property owner and even posted signs noting the violations in the yard.
“This is one that the city has to do something about,” said Deputy Police Chief Eddie Wilson, who is in charge of code compliance.
While the city abated 34 properties of high grass in 2013, the Sleepy Hollow property needs more than mowed grass. Someone needs to remove the junk, trash and rubble, a task undertaken only once this year in Copperas Cove, according to a code compliance report.
About $10,000 is needed to abate the Sleepy Hollow lot, Wilson said. It has gone up for auction a couple of times, but didn’t sell because the cleanup would cost more than the property is worth.
To reduce the cost of the abatement, city employees will clean up portions of the property starting in October, Wilson said.
Tight budgets and excessive liens can make the decision of abating a property hard, he said. Unless the owner pays the lien, selling the property is the only other way for the city to recoup costs.
Complete abatement of the Sleepy Hollow property, which would include removal of four structures, would use up most of the funds the city budgeted for a year’s worth of abatements, Wilson said. That won’t happen since other lots in the city need cleaning up, too.
A lot on South 21st Street and Urbantke Lane was boarded up and left vacant. The garage doors were stolen, grass and weeds are overgrown, and it has became a dump site for people.
On Sunset Lane, an apartment complex was destroyed by fire. People started to leave old furniture and other trash, adding to the debris.
“I haven’t been paying that much attention to it,” said Dominique Frazier, who lives near the site.
Things coming and going and getting torn down and rebuilt are all part of life, she said, as she stood across the street from the burned debris and discarded items. “I have seen people trying to pull stuff out of it, and I know people dump their trash there, or by a mail box and trash cans, people that don’t even live here,” Frazier said.
The property owners live in California. While the city mails tickets, no one will be extradited to Texas for a code compliance fine, officials said.
The property owners on 21st Street and Urbantke Lane left town, too. As the property became unkempt, it also became a drug house, Wilson said.
“That type of appearance breeds crime,” he said.
Residents living near the Sleepy Hollow site agree.
Rodents and snakes aren’t the only things that live over there, a neighbor said.
“There are vagrants living there from time to time,” Tijerina said. He has seen lights shining around the barely standing structures.
Fixing the problem
Copperas Cove’s goal is to bring people into compliance through education, not by abating and ticketing, said Autumn Downing, a compliance officer. When officers visit someone’s residence, they learn about the regulations and usually follow them.
“For the most part, people clean it on their own,” Downing said.
Wilson said properties like those on Sunset and Sleepy Hollow are extreme examples of problem properties in Cove. But the underlying issue code compliance sees is attitude.
“It is difficult to change attitude,” Wilson said. “It is hard to get people to care, and to some people, it is not a mess.”