Louisville Magazine

MAR 2017

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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72 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 3.17 liens started piling up last April and now amount to $5,000. When Howard and his assistant come and board? Lien. When a crew mows the overgrown lawn? Lien. When a cleaning crew comes to remove the junk that people dump? Lien. A disgruntled neighbor will call to complain about the next eyesore or sketchy activity and the crews will be back. More liens. When Coomer started running vacant-lot maintenance four years ago there were four crews out every day. Now there are eight, four staffed with inmates, plus a newly formed graffiti-abatement group. Ten total with Howard in charge of boarding. Anthony Warren, who is on one of the cleaning-and-cutting crews, calls the steady work "good job security." e best-kept property on the block is a funeral home. All around are several other boarded-up houses. A two-story brick house looks like the ghost of something you might see on Cherokee Road. e structures look sturdy, but left much longer and they could be candidates for demolition, meeting the same fate as the buildings that used to occupy the block's several vacant lots. A property is considered vacant by the Vacant and Public Property Administra- tion if: it has been referred to the city for action such as cleaning, mowing, boarding or demolition; code enforcement officers have determined it to be vacant for at least one year; and a property maintenance violation is open on the structure or lot. Of the city's more than 7,400 known vacant and abandoned properties, 4,460, or 60 percent, are in ZIP codes that are majority west Louisville neighborhoods (40203, 40210, 40211, 40212). Contrast this to the 240 vacant and abandoned properties that are in a comparable section in the East End (40204, 40205, 40206, 40207). Of the 197 properties currently on the city's list of demolition referrals, 165, or 84 percent, are in west Louisville neighborhoods. e Landbank Authority, the land acquisition and sale entity governed by the city, county, state and JCPS, owns 273 properties; 265 are in west Louisville. Consider the Market Street house's property fines. Now add several years and several thousand properties. at equates to $41 million that vacant- property owners owe the city in unpaid fines and fees. Of that, $36 million is from properties in west Louisville Metro Council districts. "We don't see these freakin' owners," says Councilwoman Jessica Green, whose district includes the southwest portion of west Louisville. Hundreds of vacant-property owners are out of state. "Meanwhile, the blocks continue to just sit there and people continue to be irate. I understand. I live in west Louisville." By May, when the grass starts to rise, she and assistant Charles Weathers will drive block by block. "I'll text him: 'Hey, I'm at 34th and such. Get the city over here and put this on the priority list,'" she says. ese aren't knee-high blades. Johnson grass, an invasive weed found on many of these lots, grows a foot a week. If the city doesn't get to it for six weeks, it can be taller than the people cutting it. Coomer says that Johnson grass will be the focus of their herbicide efforts this summer. Robin Bray dealt with an aban- doned property next to her house on Bolling Avenue in Park Hill for more than a decade. I visit her at her office off Hurstbourne Parkway, where she manages her investment properties, including about 10 in the West End. She shows me photos, newspaper clippings and city documents that she has collected over the years. "I got a whole box of stuff that's been in the news," she says. An old Property Valuation Administrator document has a photo of the charming two-story, sun- drenched white house that used to stand next to Bray's house. Bray estimates that it was demolished around 2003. e city demolishes more than 100 structures each year — mostly on properties it doesn't own — averaging more than $11,000 each. In 2015 and 2016, the city spent $2.6 million on vacant property demolitions. Bray has owned and rented the property next door to what's now a vacant lot since 2002, but her battle really started in 2004. at's the date on the photos she took of the jungle of weeds and trash next door to her. In a Courier-Journal article from 2008, her tenant at the time was quoted about the vacant-property problem. "So that was how many years ago?" Bray says. "It took me until 2016 to get the city to foreclose on it and for me to purchase it." e 46 liens on the property adjacent to Bray's kept her from trying to purchase it directly from the owner. Before the city foreclosed and cleared the property of the liens, there was no incentive to buy a vacant lot worth $500, what Bray paid, for $20,000 or $40,000. Bray ended up paying $1,800 total, including the lawyer fees and the cost to release all the liens. Now she can maintain it and her tenant will have more yard space. "I'm sure the people on the other side will appreciate it, although the other house looks like it's vacant," she says, adding that the people living in it left after a homicide occurred on the block last year. "I'll have to see if someone's there and, if not, guess what that's gonna be? Hopefully it's not another 15 years." On a recent afternoon I rode with Bray, who lives in Oldham County, through her old neighborhood. "It hurts my heart when I drive through the West End because I remember how it was and a lot of people don't remember how it was," she says. "I'm talking about 28th and Dumesnil — the Parkland business district that I grew up with when I couldn't go to Fourth Street because of the color of my skin, what I call the deep West End." e center of the area is on the National Regis- ter of Historic Places, but, apart from the architecture that's left, the neighborhood is far from what it used to be. Bray laments that the library she used to walk to is now a police station. An insurance company is now a daycare. Her old elementary school is now home to the community-services Vacant-property owners owe the city $41 million in unpaid fines and fees, $36 million of which is from properties in west Louisville Metro Council districts.

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