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Friday, March 6, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 23.0° F  A Few Clouds
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A chronic-nuisance success story
Ordinance leveraged a needed change in ownership
To see full sign, click gallery, above.

For years, Trevor Ilk had a problem with his next-door neighbors, at 1118 Petra Place, concerning their apparent involvement in illegal activity. He put up with it because he loved his landlord and his apartment, at 1122 Petra Place, off Fish Hatchery Road on Madison's south side.

Still, Ilk went through roommates who couldn't take it. The worst part was when friends came to visit.

"It was just embarrassing having guests over," he says. "Even when my parents came, they had to deal with panhandlers."

Another resident, Lois Albrecht, had people parking next to her window, blaring music in the middle of the night. "A lot of times you couldn't get in. There'd be cars parked in the middle of the parking lot," she says. "I saw a few drug deals. A lot of noise. Traffic all night long."

But since early this year, the residents haven't had to deal with the problems - thanks to the city's tough law regarding problem properties.

"The chronic-nuisance ordinance is what finally allowed something to happen," says Mark Porter, who owns 1122 Petra Place.

Porter, who bought his building in 1986, says there were problems from the start with 1118 Petra, which is a mirror design of his building and shares a parking lot.

"It started out fairly benign," Porter says. "Excessive number of people in the parking lot. Litter. Drinking in the parking lot. Cars blocking the parking lot. That gradually progressed into drug dealing and prostitution. It was fairly hidden at first but then became fairly open."

Porter worked off and on with the police, but the problems always returned. He tried getting the other building's owners to take action, without success.

There were occasional confrontations between residents of the buildings, but generally, the drug dealers operated without worry. Exasperated, Porter tried a different tack about three years ago, putting up a sign asking "customers for drugs at 1118 Petra Place" to park in the street, not the lot.

A resident at 1118 took the sign down within a day, but not before it got attention from TV crews. Porter also emailed a picture of the sign to police, the mayor and Common Council.

"That finally got something going," Porter says. "It still took nearly two years after that."

In October 2008, the city of Madison declared 1118 Petra Place a chronic-nuisance premise, ordering the building's owners, Roger and Suzanne Carlson, to take corrective action. According to a recent police report (PDF), they "did not make good-faith efforts to implement abatement plans and were less than cooperative with [police and city staff]."

It was one of the eight properties dubbed a chronic nuisance since the trial ordinance - which the Common Council has just made permanent - took effect in January 2007.

1118 Petra Place was vacated earlier this year and sold in September to a new owner for $145,000, less than half its assessed value. Isthmus was unable to reach the new owner, but Porter is pleased that improvements seem to be under way.

"I feel comfortable that [the new owner] is putting significant investment in it," Porter says, "and that he will get residents who want to take care of it."

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