Old Woodbine Road is a classic Sandy Springs cul-de-sac, curving about three-quarters of a mile among green yards and fine homes. Near the end, at Number 1115, is a ranch house that Sandy Springs Code Enforcement says is a different sort of Sandy Springs classic: a vacant property that years of court appearances have yet to resolve.
On a recent visit, a storage container and several full trash bags were in the driveway, along with two vehicles, though no one answered the door. Neighbors say the container had been there for months and the vehicles, one of which had a Gwinnett County plate, for at least 10 days.
A wire or cable dangled from the roof chest-high across the front door. On the door was an undated sticker from ServiceLink, a company that maintains properties for mortgage lenders, saying it had “inspected the property and found it to be vacant or abandoned.” Through the windows, which had no curtains or blinds, the interior appeared mostly empty, with a few boxes, some patio furniture and a plastic-covered couch visible.
Out back, stagnant water filled a pool cover and an old countertop was propped against a wall. A gutter peeled away from the roofline.
The city has taken the identified responsible owner, Valeria Melo (sometimes spelled “Waleria” in city documents) to court three times for code violations, some of them resolved, some of them not, according to Code Enforcement Manager Yvonne Smith. The last the city saw of Melo was a year ago, when she filed permits to make court-ordered repairs, Smith said.
“She disappeared again. She never did any repairs on the exterior or interior, as far as we are aware of,” Smith said of Melo. The city court had placed Melo on six months’ probation, but the probation officer could not find her, Smith added.
Melo did not respond to voicemails left at a cellphone number she once gave to neighbors and that is listed as hers in city Code Enforcement records.
The city is gearing up to go to court again to declare the property a “nuisance” and make limited repairs, Smith said. But after years of code complaints, neighbors are getting frustrated with the lack of a solution.
“We’re just not getting anywhere,” said Phil Taylor, a neighbor who reports seeing “squatters” in the property in recent years. The swimming pool has been an ongoing concern.
“The pool is full of mosquitos during the summer,” he said. “Copperhead snakes are enjoying the frog-hunting in this area.”
Chris Sams, who lives next door, is one of the few to report meeting Melo since her latest court appearance. During Tropical Storm Irma last year, he said, a massive tree fell from 1115 Old Woodbine into his yard, crushing a car and damaging a fence and arbor. Pointing out the new yellow wood on the repaired fence, he said it took weeks to get Melo to respond to fixing the damage on her side of the line. However, he said, she did show up and had a worker take care of it. But she hasn’t been seen since, and the rest of the property remains in its current state.
“It’s a blight, that’s for sure,” Sams said.
Taylor and Sams said that there is word that frozen pipes burst at one time in the house, causing expensive damage, and that liens and mortgages may be preventing repairs or redevelopment.
The house’s owner is listed in Fulton County property records as Silvio Melo. Smith said he is Valeria’s apparently former husband and that only Valeria appears to be responsible for the property and appeared for court cases.
Another concern is possible use of the property for some type of business. Sams said he once located Melo via an Alabama stone company — she is no longer its registered agent, according to state records there — and neighbors say they see strangers on the property from time to time, along with the boxes and storage unit.
“I think there is evidence to show she is either using the house as storage or using it for her business,” said Smith.
During the recent visit, a package lay on the front step. It was addressed to a Waleria De Souza Alves — which Smith said is Melo’s maiden name — at Phoenix Stone Design. According to state corporation records, that business has been registered in De Souza Alves’s name at 1115 Old Woodbine since 2014 and most recently renewed on Jan. 5, 2018.
City Code Enforcement records show that a business license was among many potential code violations investigated at the property in repeated visits since 2015. Uncut grass, a lack of secured fencing around the pool, and damaged exterior siding and gutters were among violations found in 2016, according to Smith.
After getting no response, the city went to court on Sept. 2, 2016, and got an order allowing officials to make repairs themselves, Smith said. That included putting pesticide in the pool to kill mosquito larvae during a Zika virus outbreak, she said.
Then Melo “showed up out of the blue” and cleaned up some of the issues, Smith said. However, the structural issues were not fixed. The city went back to court on Sept. 27, 2016 and Melo promised to make the repairs, Smith said.
“She disappeared. … We believe she went to Brazil,” Smith said. A return to court in March 2017 had a similar outcome.
Now the city aims to go to court yet again, starting the process by seeking at least five resident signatures on a nuisance petition. That would let the city do basic cleanup, though “the city likely would not renovate the property,” Smith said.
Taylor and Sams hope for more than that. They said the neighbors are arranging a meeting with City Councilmember Tibby DeJulio and City Attorney Dan Lee for more advice. DeJulio did not return a phone message.
Smith cautioned that there is only so much the city can do on private property.
“When you have an absentee owner or people who don’t want to comply,” she said, “you run into a brick wall with compliance.”