After a gas station closed near his neighborhood off Moreland Avenue, resident Vince Bowden said it was only a short time before he began hearing complaints from neighbors about criminal activity taking place at the site.
Bowden, the president of a nearby neighborhood association, said before county officials cleaned up the area it was riddled with trash—vandals had stolen the copper wiring from the gas pumps and prostitutes were servicing truck drivers in the abandoned parking lot.
“It was horrible,” Bowden said. “I didn’t think much of it until I started seeing truck drivers and lots of trash and squatters on the property.”
The area, located at 3000 Moreland Avenue, had become vacant after a tenant who operated the gas station moved out. The owner of the property decided to let it fall into foreclosure rather than pay for the repairs it needed, Bowden said.
“I asked the county to intervene because it was a dumping site,” Bowden said. “At first they said it was private property and they couldn’t do anything, until they found out the gas pumps had been stripped; then they considered it a hazard.”
At some point, Bowden said homeless people broke into the gas station and were living inside it, eating food that had been left when it closed.
Bowden said Sonja Brown, a community prosecutor who works for DeKalb County Solicitor General Sherry Boston, was instrumental in bringing together the agencies to fix up the blighted property.
Last year, Brown was hired as DeKalb County’s first full-time community prosecutor to deal with issues such as the one that Bowden and his neighbors faced.
“Once we reviewed the pictures that he sent our immediate reaction was ‘Wow,’” Boston said.
Boston said her office worked with the DeKalb County Police Department and DeKalb County Code Enforcement officials to eradicate the criminal activity taking place on the property and clean up the area.
“When you have a place like that Conoco station, it’s a large area not surrounded by homes,” Boston said. “It’s the perfect place for people to drive in, buy drugs and quickly pick up prostitutes and quickly drive away.”
Shortly after Boston’s office learned of the property, DeKalb County sanitation workers cleaned up the trash and debris, which Bowden said was likely left by the truckers, and boarded up the building. County workers also barricaded the entrance to the gas station so no vehicles can enter the parking lot.
“Short-term, we wanted to get the area cleaned up,” Boston said. “Long-term we want to get the property back into the hands of an appropriate business owner.”
Boston said it isn’t typically the solicitor’s job to get involved with foreclosed properties. However, she said, when a property such as the gas station becomes a haven for criminal activity “we absolutely feel like it’s our responsibility.”
“We can’t let criminal activities takeover a community,” Boston said.
Bowden said the difference is like “night and day.”
“They did a wonderful job and I’m proud of them—the legal team, police and inspectors as well as the sanitation department,” Bowden said.
“We hate to see something abandoned; we’d like to see a business come in and take it over,” he said.