The property at 205 Academy Street was not always abandoned property overgrown with weeds and a rundown structure. It was once the home of Mrs. Ethel Kimbro, who kept the lawn neatly trimmed and her house well maintained. Mrs. Kimbro died in 2003 and her property fell into the hands of TennCare for payment of her nursing home bill. The property if sold today would not even bring enough money to pay the bill owed TennCare.
The property, because it has been neglected so long, has been condemned by the City of Elizabethton.
The Kimbro property is located one block off Elk Avenue across from First Free Will Baptist Church and Courtyard Apartments and just a couple of houses south of the Carter County School Administration Building.
It’s been nine years since Mrs. Kimbro died, and TennCare has yet to dispose of the property. It has become an eyesore on Academy Street. Useless rain gutters droop from a rust-corroded roof, weeds and bushes choke the yard, and windows are boarded with city-installed plywood. A screen door hangs to the small back porch, which looks as if any day it will fall into the Doe River. Poison Ivy clings to the house like a blanket.
Rundown property and blight are unsightly and often rodent infested. More so, such property is denying local governments of much-needed tax revenue, erodes the value of nearby homes, and poses health and safety risks.
This is only one property in the city that has been abandoned. Another is a large two-story house at the corner of Race Street and Cottage Avenue, which has been vacant for some time and is in a deteriorating condition. It’s just waiting for vandals to attack or become kindling for a firebug.
In the case of the Academy Street property, it’s not unusual for back taxes and penalties to exceed the market value of the property, encouraging “no-sells.”
We would encourage the City of Elizabethton to take steps to acquire the property and turn it into a greenway, a park or other appealing feature that might improve the appearance of the neighborhood. As it is, the property is no good to anyone. The city needs to be thinking about these properties as stranded economic assets, look at ways they can be remediated, and either put them back on the tax rolls or turn them into community amenities.
There are many blighted spots in our city, which can be fixed. Another example is on East Elk Avenue less than a block from the Carter County Courthouse, where a wall fronting on the sidewalk has fallen into a vacant lot, and has been left lying.
Trash can be seen everywhere — along riverbanks, in parking lots, in ditches and along roadsides. Pride doesn’t cost anything, but, it does require people to be more responsible.
The impact of vacant over-grown property, trashy streets and riverbanks signals both neglect and a lack of pride. Not only do neighborhood residents get the message, but the larger community gets it as well. And once that happens, restoring community pride and convincing others to come in and invest in the community becomes a much taller order.
In 1982, social scientists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling introduced the “broken window” theory. It suggests that a broken window left unrepaired leads to others being broken and sends the signal that nobody cares. Of course, it wasn’t only broken windows, but also abandoned cars, graffiti, blighted houses and other visible signs of neglect they were talking about. Broken neighborhoods often lead to uninvited crime.
We encourage our city leaders to take a second look at these properties, and take action to reclaim and revitalize them. At the same time, we encourage the citizens to take greater pride in where they live, and not be so messy! Garbage cans are for trash, not riverbanks, parks and parking lots!