Archive for Thursday, April 15, 2004

Officials split on vacant house

Neighborhood leader challenges commission not to demolish property

April 15, 2004

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A parking lot. A grass lawn. A site for low-income housing.

A home and two vacant lots at downtown's edge could be any one of the three options someday, but only one certainty emerged after commissioners debated the issue Wednesday night.

The vacant home at 1120 R.I. will remain empty, boarded up and a public-safety hazard until one of the three Douglas County commissioners changes his mind.

"Somebody's going to have to shift positions," said Charles Jones, commission chairman. "And that's going to take some time."

Commissioners had taken another shot at settling a neighborhood controversy that has been broiling ever since the county acquired the house and two adjacent lots in the late 1980s.

The properties, directly across the street from an expansive public parking lot at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, originally had been envisioned for another county parking lot.

But commissioners have yet to make a decision. The house served as a storage building for about a decade, but now sits vacant.

Commissioners learned Wednesday night that the house suffers from a crumbling foundation, leaky walls and an electrical system, roof, heating system, water heater and ceilings all needing replacement.

Commissioners Jere McElhaney and Bob Johnson don't want any part of such upgrades. They'd prefer to tear the house down.

McElhaney wants a parking lot. Johnson wants to plant grass on the lot and maintain it as open space until a future use is determined.

But Jones and leaders of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn. are continuing their push for having the house and adjacent lots sold for rehabilitation into homes for qualifying low-income buyers. Jones said the proceeds could be used for upgrades at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds.

For Jones and neighborhood supporters, demolition is not an option.

"Fix the house," said Ed Tato, president of the association. "It's the option you're not talking about. Fix the house. That's what we've said to private people in the neighborhood. That's what we're saying to you: You own it. You're responsible for it. You let it deteriorate. ... You've incrementally ignored the standards of property ownership ... and that's not acceptable."

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