Bibb County officials ordering evacuation at Crystal Lake Apartments


    Jayla Whitfield (WGXA)

    MACON, Ga. -- Macon-Bibb County officials said residents of a west Macon apartment complex have been ordered to evacuate.

    The county said in a release that fire and code enforcement officials reviewed the complex base on recent safety concerns, including a lack of water and electricity to a number of the buildings.

    Related content: Crystal Lake tenants report they're still without water, power

    “We are making this decision to make sure people are in safe and warm accommodations, and to make sure repairs are made before anyone is allowed to occupy these buildings again,” said Macon-Bibb Mayor Robert Reichert. “We know this move will be hard on families, but we would rather they be inconvenienced than injured.”

    Residents of the tower and mid-rise buildings are ordered to evacuate starting Friday afternoon, based on county officials' findings. "This evacuation affects about 70 residents for an indefinite period of time," the release said.

    Bibb County fire crews have reportedly told the apartment's management that no one except for workers fixing the problems are to be allowed back into the buildings. They'll stay closed until both the fire department and code enforcement have inspected the repairs and say it's safe for people to live in them again.

    “The electrical and life safety systems in these buildings have been disabled and cannot be repaired in a short amount of time, making them unsafe for people to occupy,” said Macon-Bibb Fire Chief Marvin Riggins. “Until those systems can be repaired, we can’t open the building.”

    “We found water pooled around the electrical systems and the exterior stairs are no longer safe to be used,” said Business Development Services Director Ricky Fuller. “Our inspectors will monitor the repairs as they happen.”

    Macon-Bibb commissioner Al Tillman was at the complex Friday afternoon and told WGXA that the situation has unfolded quickly because of safety issues and hoped residents can cooperate.

    Tillman said he just wants the tenants to know there are resources and added that county officials are on the ground to help them. "This problem started from the owners themselves," said Tillman. "We're trying to fix it."

    "We understand that people may feel they don't have anywhere to go, but there's no power, there's no water, so it's about safety. The temperatures are going to drop tonight, so we're just encouraging people to try and do something else," Tillman said. "As a commissioner who represents this area, I'm trying to get people to please leave this area so we can get more resources to you to help you."

    “We’ll be encouraging people to seek out friends and family they can stay with while these repairs are being made,” said Emergency Management Agency Director Spencer Hawkins. “For those people unable to find a place to stay, they can go the Salvation Army Headquarters at 1955 Broadway.”

    Macon attorney Tomieka Daniel, with Georgia Legal Services, said they encourage residents with these kinds of problems to contact them. Substandard housing is "a huge problem in our area," Daniel said.

    If residents wanted to get out of their lease or have the costs of temporarily moving covered, Daniel added that they could help but would have to check the conditions of each lease separately and "wouldn't be able to speak generally on that."

    Low income or elderly residents interested in getting help from Georgia Legal Services can call them at 478-751-6261. Daniel said they need clients to get the case started and that GLS can't go to a property to solicit for clients.

    Anyone who needs information about the Salvation Army can go to its website or call 478-746-8572. You can also call Macon-Bibb County with questions at 478-751-7400 or reach commissioner Al Tillman at mbctillman@maconbibb.us.

    Documents from Macon-Bibb County Business Development Services that WGXA obtained showed that Steve Firestone with Crystal Lake Holdings, LLC, the property's holding company, had been aware of code violations at the complex at least since February 12, 2018.

    The letter stated code violations concerning the roof, plumbing, and installation of electrical equipment, among other things. Crystal Lake Holdings, LLC was given up to 30 days to make the repairs and get back in touch with BDS to let the county know everything had been fixed.

    Macon-Bibb BDS sent Crystal Lake Holdings, LLC another letter on October 26, 2018, citing more code violations -- this time concerning fire protection, plumbing and structural issues.

    Again, the county asked for a response when those repairs were done, but emails from January 15 and January 19, 2019 from an Atlanta law office that "represents the owner of Crystal Lake Apartments" showed the property was being sold. Those emails also indicated an ongoing "code violation hearing."

    According to the emails, the new owner of Crystal Lake Apartments would "take on responsibility for remedying the code violations," except for one issue that was reportedly being taken care of.

    WGXA News has reached out Steve Firestone with Crystal Lake Holdings regarding the evacuations and are waiting on a response. Check back on this developing story as we gather more details.



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