- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson is pushing for emergency legislation that would give the county authority to demolish buildings it deems unsafe.

The legislation, which would make it quicker and easier for the county to condemn and tear down buildings, was introduced to the County Council at its meeting Tuesday night. A public hearing for a final vote is scheduled July 29.

“To ensure a livable community, we must have the authority to deal with abandoned and unsafe buildings in a timely manner,” Mr. Johnson said. “We intend to aggressively remove neighborhood eyesores.”

Mr. Johnson announced the details of the legislation at a press conference yesterday outside the Georgian Garden apartment complex in Oxon Hill, which was destroyed in 2001 after a series of fires tore through it. The abandoned complex, which spreads across both sides of Maury Avenue, is the only structure identified yet for demolition under the proposed law.

“We’re here to say just one thing: We’re going to tear this place down,” Mr. Johnson told a small crowd that gathered outside the complex. “And after we tear this down, we’re going to build it right back, and it will be beautiful.”

The legislation was originally proposed June 17 and approved by the council’s Transportation, Housing and Environmental Committee on July 2. If passed by the County Council, the legislation also would allow a county building-code official to condemn a structure immediately if he or she believes it is an imminent danger to public health.

If the owner of the condemned property does not respond to a mailed notice announcing the status of the structure within 30 days, then the building could be demolished.

Currently, officials say they must go through long court battles to demolish an unsafe structure. The proposed legislation would allow for swift action to demolish and remedy abandoned buildings that contribute to community blight.

County officials would not say yesterday what other buildings would be demolished. A spokeswoman for Mr. Johnson said officials have a tentative list, but that it is being “reanalyzed” before release to the public.

Asked why emergency legislation is necessary if the county is not yet sure what buildings must be demolished, Mr. Johnson pointed to the burned apartment complex at 716 Maury Ave.

“We know we need to tear down this one,” he said.

The list does not include structures that are in as poor shape as Georgian Garden, said Donna M.P. Wilson, director of the countyDepartment of Environmental Resources.

“This is by far the worst,” Miss Wilson said of the complex.

Debbie Marlowe, who lives next door to the apartments, interrupted Mr. Johnson’s press conference twice to complain about the burned-out hulk.

“I hear it, I see it, I smell it,” Miss Marlowe said. “There are no lights. It’s very frightening.”

Miss Marlowe said she often hears gunshots at the complex and worries about people who scavenge electrical parts from the ruins. “When you call [police], it’s very difficult to get a response,” she said.

She asked Mr. Johnson if the county would provide lights or other security measures for the complex before it is demolished. Mr. Johnson referred her to police officers standing nearby, but said the buildings will be torn down soon.

Miss Wilson said the county hopes to demolish it by fall.

The county has no estimate as to how much money it is losing through abandoned buildings, Mr. Johnson said. But even if it lacks the money to rebuild immediately after demolishing structures, it is committed to tearing them down, he said.

Appraisal records show that Bresler & Reiner, a Rockville-based property-management firm, owns Georgian Garden. A spokeswoman for the firm could not be reached for comment yesterday.


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