Natchez Aldermen seek legal action against owners of blighted property

Published 2:38 pm Wednesday, June 30, 2021

NATCHEZ —The unfortunate death of Natchez resident Lee Nelson during a meeting of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen last week has pushed the board into action.

Nelson was in the middle of giving a presentation to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen Friday about the blighted properties on behalf of his neighborhood when he suddenly crumpled to the floor and stopped breathing. Nelson was later pronounced dead at Merit Health Natchez.

After opening Monday’s special called meeting with a moment of silence and prayer for the Nelson family, the first agenda item the board dealt with was pursuing legal action against the owners of 26 properties in the city that are in disrepair.

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The list includes: 3 Caddo St.; 508, 510 and 512 N. Canal St.; 13 and 29 Claiborne St.; 11 S. Circle Drive; 204 Creek St.; 1208, 1210, 1214, and 1250 Daisy St.; 815 and 1037 N. Dr. Martin Luther King St.; 15 ½ and 34 Garden St.; 305 Hurricane Road; 21 Linden Drive; 36 and 51 Minor St.; 52, 66 and 109 E. Oak St.; 712 Pearl St.; 716 Smith St.; and 1320 John A Quitman Blvd., which is the property owned by Dr. Thomas Vaughan where the historic Arlington house is located.

The list was compiled between Friday and Monday’s special called meeting in direct response to Nelson’s concerns, Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson said.

The 26 properties, including four properties in the Daisy Street neighborhood where Nelson lived, are the oldest on a list of more than 250 properties in the city that have already been adjudicated, Gibson said.

Laws in the State of Mississippi allow municipalities to file civil charges against property owners who let their properties fall into disrepair, officials said.

“It is not fair to any of our citizens for property owners to allow their properties to fall into such state of disrepair without consequence,” Gibson said. “We’ve already adjudicated these properties to no avail. … Anyone who causes undue stress and concern to their neighbors — this would send a message to them that that type of activity will not be tolerated.”

Natchez City Attorney Bryan Callaway said he spoke with Attorney Tim Cotton who would be willing to take on the cases and present them to Justice Court. If the city wins the civil suits, tax liens would be applied to the attorney fees at the time they are collected, he said.

Alderman Ben Davis said many of the property owners were either deceased or elderly and could be unable to pay fines.

“The goal here isn’t to get the money but to get these properties cleaned up,” Gibson said, adding the board would have the ability to drop civil suits if the properties are cleaned.

The board also discussed a “mow-to-own” program in which property owners could take ownership of abandoned property next to theirs if they take over the responsibility of maintaining them. Officials took no action in regard to the mow-to-own program.

The board passed a motion to pursue the lawsuits against property owners by a vote of 5-0. Alderwoman Sarah Carter-Smith was absent from Monday’s meeting. The board also passed a resolution instructing Adams County Tax Collector Terrence Bailey to collect all tax liens or sell properties where taxes have not been collected by a vote of 5-0.

In other matters during Monday’s meeting, the board unveiled plans for the restored North Natchez Park Youth Center prepared by Waycaster Architects of Natchez.
The restoration is part of a $2 million bond issue the board is pursuing to update recreational facilities and parks throughout the city. The work on the building is estimated to cost approximately $365,000 and would include a full facelift of the building’s exterior and new bathrooms inside, officials said.

“(Restoring the Youth Center) is something I’ve been wanting to do since I got elected,” Alderman Billie Joe Frazier said. “This is something that will benefit everyone in the community — not just one community but all over town. We’re going to outshine Duncan Park.”

The building was historically used as a gathering spot for many African Americans when segregation was prevalent in the City of Natchez and officials are working to have the building designated as a Mississippi landmark as part of Natchez’s Civil Rights history.