Carver community ready for abandoned properties to go

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 7, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — It’s the middle of the afternoon Saturday, and Ethel Mary Johnston sits on her front porch, sewing.
The yard of her home on Wilson Street is immaculate, the grass mowed and the chain-link fence in good order.
Her family has owned the property for decades.
When she was younger, and away working, “I always looked forward to the day I could come back and stay,” Johnston said.
Her well-kept home is a far cry from the house and outbuilding across the road, numbers 634 and 632 Wilson St.
There, the windows are knocked out.
Cobwebs spanning the doorways of the duplex show no one has been through them in some time.
And the outbuilding, once a neighborhood store, is falling apart.
Tacked to the door, faded and weathered, are the official notices that the buildings are on their way to condemnation.
For Johnston, that day can’t come too soon.
“It used to be nice over here,” said Johnston.
Today, she said, she and several others who own their homes try to maintain them as best they can.
But it seems the majority of properties on Wilson Street today are rentals, owned by one of several agencies or landlords.
“And the rest of ’em just don’t seem to want to,” she said. “Everybody died off, or went off.”
For residents here, and on other streets in and around the Carver community, Monday’s Kannapolis City Council meeting could bring peace of mind.
The abandoned buildings on Wilson Street are among eight that could be condemned and demolished in the coming weeks, if the council votes to do so.
Seven are within a half-mile of one another, in and near the Carver Community.
In most cases, the properties were inherited, then abandoned.
And in every case, according to paperwork filed with the city, the cost of renovating the buildings would be more than they’re worth.
That’s the case with the former church at 544 East C St., where the black First Baptist Church met for decades.
But for years now, the red-brick building across from the former Carver School has sat abandoned.
Concerns over the cost of repairs and removal of asbestos halted several attempts to renovate the former church.
Now owned by First Bank following a foreclosure, further inspections have concluded that the building is too far gone to save.
From the road, there are visible holes in the roof, many rotten places in the eaves and numerous cracks in the brick.
It’s unclear just how bad the damage is inside.
Joyce Gibson, of the Carver Community Association, lives next door to the former church.
She grew up in the home on West C Street, and moved back there in 2001.
“I attended church here,” Gibson said.
But, she said, she won’t be sorry to see the building torn down.
“It was a safety issue,” she said, before it was brought under control.
The doors have been sealed to keep people from entering, and one could be seen propped shut from the outside with a large timber.
“It’s more of an eyesore. It’s falling down,” Gibson said.
She said she hopes to see a cornerstone or some sort of memorial erected there.
The other buildings in the area are similarly abandoned.
In some cases, according to paperwork filed with the city, owners live out of state and aren’t interested in making repairs.
In the case of the house and former store on Wilson Street, a title search performed by City Attorney Walter Safrit revealed that the property had been improperly sold seven years ago.
The would-be owner told the city he wasn’t interested in paying more money to try to get ahold of the house.
Neither was the actual owner.
None of the parties involved could be immediately reached for comment.
Another of the buildings up for condemnation, at 205 Wood Ave., was also a neighborhood store.
Gibson said she remembers walking there in the afternoons after school.
“We called it Shorty’s Store,” Gibson said.
“When we got old enough to leave school for lunch, we’d go to get sandwiches and cookies there.”
There was also a meat counter, she said, where her parents and other bought groceries.
Today, the building is boarded up. Kudzu vines grow over one side, with poke salad plants wilting in the heat.
Shonda Winecoff is renting the house next door.
“It looks snake-infested and stuff,” she said, standing in her front yard and looking over at the former store.
Although she’s only lived on Wood Avenue a few months, Winecoff said she’s seen people coming and going, removing items from the building, which is apparently now used for storage.
According to public records, three people – Lura Steepleton, Darnell Cunningham and Richard Willis – have a stake in the property.
None of them could be immediately reached for comment.
Gibson said the city has been good about working with the community to clean up properties and tear down those that are unsafe or abandoned.
The biggest issue, she said, are those whose owners are unwilling or unable to make repairs.
Some landlords still choose not to maintain rental properties, Gibson said, while tenants are sometimes afraid to report needed repairs.
“They fear the rent will go up, or they’ll have to pay,” Gibson said.
Meanwhile, on Wilson Street, Johnston’s house may soon look out onto a neater scene.
And, she said, she’ll be glad. After all, she’s worked hard to have the home she’s got.
The lesson to be learned from those abandoned buildings is simple, Johnston said.
“If you carry yourself right, then you ask for help and you can get it,” Johnston said.
If these eight properties are demolished in the weeks ahead, perhaps those that follow will help bring that sense of pride back to those Kannapolis streets.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.