Firm hand needed to address nuisance properties

Johnson City Press • Oct 26, 2019 at 10:23 AM

It’s about time somebody cleaned up this town.

The trope may be “borrowed” from the plot of just about every Western film, but for some areas of Johnson City, it’s applicable.

We’re not a lawless haven for criminals, like Dodge City, but for years we’ve had some spots of blight begging for attention.

Finally, it seems, the city’s Code Enforcement staff are tackling those problem areas.

Staff writer David Floyd reported two separate instances this week in which the department’s actions have inspired movement to correct dilapidated properties.

The first, was the highly visible 107 Buffalo St. building, a long-vacant downtown property that one official called “the poster child of neglect.”

Its boarded-up windows and crumbling facade have greeted downtown visitors for years. It was an eyesore and a detriment to the area’s revitalization even before the city ordered the building’s out-of-town owners to make emergency repairs to its top wall six years ago to keep bricks from falling on the sidewalk below.

Chief building official Jim Sullivan said threats earlier this year from the Board of Dwelling Standards to condemn and demolish the building helped convince the owners to repair its leaky roof and make improvements to its masonry work and windows.

We hope the repairs will again make it habitable, so new businesses can move into the prominent location.

In the residential Tree Streets Neighborhood, the city’s Historic Zoning Commission approved the demolition of two houses this week that neighbors say have been nuisances for 30 years.

According to Sullivan, the vacant houses in the 400 block of West Maple Street have fallen into such disrepair that the drastic demolition order is called for.

It’s unfortunate that the two properties will benefit the neighborhood more as vacant lots than as the family homes they were built to be, but city staff said the owner was given every chance to repair them.

The owner still has the opportunity to appeal the demolition order for one of the properties, but for the other, the time has passed. It could be torn down any day now.

Though we think the city has made the right calls in these cases, we would like to urge caution in the application of the condemnation powers available to municipalities. Property rights are foundational to our legal and economic systems, and owners should have broad leeway in doing as they see fit with what’s theirs.

When their actions infringe on others’ rights to enjoy their properties, we think action should be taken, but only after affording them every opportunity to correct whatever issues exist.

It sounds to us like the city has been more than generous to these owners. Now their time has run out.