Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Johnson City Press on negligent property owners in the historic district:
If ever there were a problem child in downtown Johnson City’s rebirth, it would have to the “1888 building.”
Sitting just off Fountain Square at 107 Buffalo St., the two-story structure is among the city’s oldest. It’s also downtown’s worst eyesore.
Owners and developers have remodeled and repurposed such historic structures as the First National Bank building (Freiberg’s Restaurant), the Farmers Exchange building (Trek Bicycles and London’s Lofts) and the adjacent Commerce Street railroad platform warehouses. Even the Betty Gay and the Liberty Theater buildings, both of which were mere shells, on East Main Street are getting new life.
Sadly, it took threats of condemnation and demolition from the city’s Board of Dwelling Standards to get the long-vacant 1888 building’s absentee owners to join the party. On June 27, the panel found the structure “unfit for human habitation.” The board ordered the California-based owners to provide within 90 days a work plan that included repairing the facade, storefront and broken glazing, as well as replacing masonry.
The order got the owners’ attention. Married couple Gemma Velasquez and Murray Cruickshank engaged Johnson City developer Ernest Campbell and Limestone-based Artistry in Glass to make the necessary improvements.
Lo and behold, the contractors were on site this week to start the repairs.
This was not the first time the city had to force Velasquez and Cruickshank to work on the building. The city also raised the ugly specter of demolition in 2013 when an inspection revealed multiple holes in the building’s roof and found that the street-side parapet wall was leaning. The lean was so severe that codes inspectors feared loose bricks from it could fall on pedestrians passing by on the sidewalk. Scaffolding soon appeared for what were obviously only stopgap repairs.
We hope that’s not the case again with this effort. Johnson City’s historic district deserves better than absentee, irresponsible, neglectful ownership.
No one seems to know exactly how old the building is or what its original purpose was. It’s called “the 1888 building” because of the date stamp atop its northwest-facing wall, but the stamp is clearly an added feature given its contrast to the adjacent masonry.
Old city fire insurance maps show the structure was used as a clothing store and fruit stand in 1891, vacant in 1897 and a restaurant in both 1908 and 1913. Telephone directories show it was a cafe in the ’50s and ‘60s and a beverage store in the ‘70s. By the mid-’80s, it was vacant.
Velasquez recently told Staff Writer David Floyd that she and Cruickshank, who purchased the building in 1996 for $48,000, hope to “restore it to her former glory.”
“The building was a significant investment for us when we purchased it, and the restoration … represents significant commitment by us monetarily and regards to our resources,” Velasquez said. “Again, we’re not wealthy. I don’t even think we’d consider ourselves comfortable. We’re just normal, everyday working folk.”
If the couple cannot gather the resources to do more than simply shore up the conditions, they should put the building on the market. Its position near the square and across the tracks from the Pavilion at Founders Park should make it attractive to buyers who can put the spot to good use.
Other building owners should take note of the city’s willingness to enforce codes with threat of demolition — the Historic Zoning Commission’s recent decision to raze two century-old homes in the Historic Tree Streets District being another prime example.
Johnson City’s historic areas have come a long way in recent years, but there are still numerous properties — along Market Street for example — in dire need of better care and purpose.
The Crossville Chronicle on making daylight saving times permanent:
The end of daylight saving time is nearing, and many Tennesseans are wondering why they must once again change their clocks and return to standard time.
Earlier this year, the Tennessee General Assembly voted to stay on daylight saving time year-round. The bill was signed by Gov. Bill Lee.
While “Schoolhouse Rock” may have us thinking that’s all there is to it, changing time involves more than just Tennessee’s clocks. It affects interstate commerce and requires federal action.
Though the 1966 Uniform Time Act allows states to stay on standard time all year, it does not allow states to stay on daylight saving time all year. As of June 2019, 29 states had introduced legislation for permanent daylight saving time.
Currently, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and North Carolina are among the states with legislation or non-binding resolutions for permanent daylight saving time. Only Florida, Washington and Tennessee have laws in place to move to permanent daylight saving time upon approval by the federal government.
Tennessee is in a unique position for permanent daylight saving time. We have two time zones within our state. We are also bordered by eight states. While a permanent daylight saving time change might not concern someone living near the geographic center of the state, anyone who must travel to another state or time zone can appreciate the confusion this would cause.
Unless our neighbors in Georgia and Kentucky also plan to move to permanent daylight saving time, the move to year-round daylight saving time will likely result in a lot of frustration and “what time am I on?” confusion.
Hopefully Congressional lawmakers will consider that sort of confusion when they take up bills to address the wave of daylight saving time forever legislation by the states.
We would love to enjoy a little more daylight during those dreary winter months, but only if all our neighbors join us in permanent daylight saving time.
The Kingsport TimesNews on X:
As with any community, Kingsport has its share of code violations that, in some cases, neighbors have had to tolerate for years. A former member of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen told us the city has a bad reputation for enforcement and indeed, over the years, support for code enforcement has been cut even as complaints have increased. The city has treated enforcement reactively, acting when complaints came in. And even then enforcement is spotty, we’re told.
But relief may be on the way, and it’s about time. Look at an aerial map of Kingsport, and you’ll see back yards with inoperable and unregistered vehicles. Some are literal auto junkyards within the city limits. Drive around some parts of the city, and you’ll see front porches and yards littered with trash, junk, overgrown grass and shrubbery.
There are dilapidated structures, vehicles illegally parked, debris and junk and illegal outside storage. Kudos to the new administration for doing something about it.
City Manager Chris McCartt said the city is assembling a task force composed of city departments that deal with enforcement, including the police, fire and building departments, public works and legal staff. Code enforcement involves each of those departments and others such as animal control.
The purpose of this committee is to examine which code enforcement efforts are being done well, which are not, and how best the city can improve. It will consider whether the city has sufficient resources, how other communities manage code enforcement, and also examine the city’s various ordinances.
In the meantime, Kingsport is stepping up enforcement. The city has added $80,000 to code enforcement for mowing high grass and tearing down dilapidated structures where the owner is absent. In such cases, the city would place a lien on the property to recover costs.
“That’ll be a process as the task force looks at opportunities and where we need to apply resources,” McCartt said. “It’ll be something we evaluate through the budget process or sooner depending on the results of the evaluation.”
It isn’t just image that’s at risk when code enforcement suffers. It’s a safety issue. It’s a health issue. And how effectively a community enforces its codes has a direct impact on property values. When residents trash their property it can be the start of a blighted neighborhood, and the only tool a community has to prevent that is efficient code enforcement.