Atlanta tears down notorious, vacant apartment complex

Residents of a South Atlanta neighborhood cheered and chanted "hey, hey, goodbye" as an excavator started tearing down the dilapidated Wishing Well Apartments on Waters Road Tuesday morning.

For residents of the Glenrose Heights neighborhood, it was the end of a multi-year struggle to tear down the vacant complex. It had become a haven for crime and illegal tire dumping, with missing doors and windows and shoulder-high weeds. On Tuesday, the city's Department of Planning and Community Development swooped in with dump trucks after the city declared the property "highly hazardous."

"Today is a victory for this community," said City Councilwoman Joyce M. Sheperd, who represents the area. She said the complex, which spans six buildings and is about two miles from I-75, had been a major problem.

"Residents are happy, but they're also angry," she said. "It took us two or three years to pull this thing down."

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said city staffers worked to cut through the red tape. In the case of Wishing Well, a substantial amount of research had to be done. The apartment complex was added to the list of demolition projects after the city was unable to locate the owners of the property at 2950 Waters Road.

"Wishing Well has been a notoriously bad place," Reed said.

One visibly upset resident asked Reed why it took so long for the city to act.

"You brought this to my attention, and now I'm doing something about it," he said. "I don't think it's a good spirit to attack each other."

City officials say Tuesday’s demolition is a down payment on reducing the number of blighted, vacant properties around the city. If approved by City Council, a new law would require owners of vacant properties to register them or face fines. Reed said the city had reduced its backlog of code violations to fewer than 2,000 from more than 4,500 when he took office in January 2010.

"We're working hard every day to push that number lower and lower," he said.

The demolition of Wishing Well will cost about $183,000. C.J. Davis, who runs code enforcement operations for the Atlanta Police Department, said about 200 properties are high priorities to be torn down within a year. A mixture of local and federal funds help cover the cost.

"We have moved aggressively to take this process and shrink it down," she said.

For Stacey Hopkins, who used to live in the neighborhood before moving to Hapeville, the tear-down was a good start. But Hopkins, who said she called the city repeatedly about the problem, said there were other properties nearby that should get similar treatment.

"We'll be back," she said. Just around the corner, "it looks like New Orleans."