For the Record
Karla Robinson is in luck, if it's archived Lexington Herald-Leader stories she wants ["Local News online 24/7 is a myth," In Media Res, Jun 29]. Internet users at the Lexington Public Library have free access to articles in the Herald-Leader's online archive. The library picks up the tab, and Ms. Robinson can use the $1.95 she normally would pay to buy a double espresso at Cosmo's Cafe.
Lexington Public Library
Lissa, I just wanted to express to you my appreciation for your latest "on the block" column [July 6].You pose one of the most important questions facing us today: what kind of architectural record are we creating. We will be pitied by the future if we don't change directions. Good luck.
Chip Crawford is a whiner [Letters, July 13] who's probably just full of sour grapes about not getting the bid for jobs like the one on Fayette Park. [On the Block, July 6]
Goblets of Discontent
What was Alex De Grand thinking when he wrote the article on Harry Potter? [July 13, Kid$: Harry Potter and the Big Fat Wallets of Preteens]. I find it curious that a paper, obviously aimed at people reading, would print an article that makes fun of something that encourages kids to read. He focused on the lame party that some bookstore had to boost their sales of the book and some stupid comment by an employee who most likely doesn't make any intelligent comments at all. He forgot to add the significance of the fact that the author is a single mother who wrote the first novel on napkins because she didn't even have a computer. He also forgot the most important point which is that this book is encouraging people to read! Even more impressive is that it's making it cool to read! And this newest Harry Potter book is 730 pages long! How many of us adults have read a book that long? I say kudos to author J.K. Rowling for topping the New York Times bestseller list with a children's novel. I know that there are things such as "Pokemon" that are taking kids money and doing nothing but making them less educated for the effort.
We, therefore, must all applaud this author for finding a way to make reading so much fun!
Must we? Papers aimed at encouraging people to read don't necessarily have to encourage it on a by-the-pound basis.
I'll take my stand
You won't take this from me baby. You will not take this from me...
As letters continue to pour in about preservation vs. development, and the importance of the architectural record, and "grow up, not out," and "growth is good," yet it also "destroys bluegrass forever," I am sitting in my house and watching a neighborhood - a once-thriving, turn-of-the-century neighborhood-disintegrate before my very eyes.
There are now a handful of rental properties to my right. To my left is an impeccably manicured, landscaped, and buffed Frank Lloyd Wright-ish house (out of place with the character of the neighborhood but maintained to perfection). Next there's the retired UK professor in his 90s who fell off his third story roof shortly before I moved in, but still manages to grow flowers and vegetables in the vacant lot next door. He's from Cuba, and on his good days, he can give you the entire history of the street, of Lexington, of the university, and more than you maybe ever wanted to know about Castro. Beyond him is a series of single-family Cape Cod style dwellings, an occasional duplex, and a few bungalows.
My house is the Maginot Line that separates the wheat from the chaff (and it certainly has elements of both).
Scarcely a week goes by that I don't get a note in my mailbox from some prospective slumlord asking me to sell it to him, probably so he can cram16 frat boys into it, thereby prompting the remaining property owners to sell out, domino-like, and head for the hills.
My response, to date, has been: "I will douse it with kerosene, burn it to the ground, and sow the scorched and blackened earth with salt first."
But my fear is, one person's response is too little, too late.
Most of the rental properties on the street were purchased for a song in the 70s and 80s ($16,000 to $34,000 in most cases). All of them together probably didn't add up to a $100 grand.
The time to act was then. Now, the absentee landlords are dug in.
The fact is, if landlords can get $800-$1200/month (the going rate) for a property that doesn't cost them any more in upkeep than a gallon of paint once a year, they have no incentive to leave. Even if they still held a mortgage, it wouldn't amount to more than a few hundred bucks a month. It's hard to imagine a more profitable investment. That's capitalism, and it ain't going anywhere folks.
From a renter's perspective, if you can cram eight buddies into a shack for $100/month each, you probably will. For $100/month, how much will you have invested in that street? That neighborhood? Particularly if you only plan to be there for one or two semesters, at which point you'll rotate in a pal who'll sublet your share?
It does no good to slap labels on the problem: students vs. homeowners; absentee landlords vs. owners; renters vs. neighborhood associations. That just makes everyone tense, and prompts a rousing chorus of "not me."
So what can we do?
Various solutions have been attempted, all to dismal effect.
An H1 historic overlay was offered up as salvation for the Woodland Park/campus neighborhood a couple years ago. (It requires that property owners go through an approval process with the city prior to exterior changes.) It has had exactly the impact Todd Piccirilli's 1998 cover story predicted it would: most of the slumlords haven't so much as picked up a hammer since. What little exterior maintenance had been done prior to H1- even of the most casual, desultory variety - ground to a screeching halt.
Occupancy ordinances have been floated as possible solutions-x number of occupants to a house - but have been protested as racist, classist, elitist, and various other -ists.
R1 and R2 - which limit multi-unit dwellings- can help. But that barn door's already open - by now, the vinyl-sided nightmares are already firmly entrenched in the landscape.
Lissa Sims (who writes Ace's [surprisingly controversial] real estate column), also happens to be a landlord in my neighborhood. She and her husband went to considerable trouble to respect the integrity of the block when they rented out their former house. They landscaped with ground cover to avoid the possibility of an overgrown, unkempt lawn. They rented to young, professional tenants who plan to stay there for a while and treat the house like a home. They stay in touch with their former neighbors, so if the tenants did create problems, they'd hear about them, and be receptive to solving them.
She's also approached her former neighbors about assembling all the owners, renters, and landlords to talk about issues like parking, lawn care, noise ordinances, and so on.
I very selfishly wish she owned all the rental property in this town. (I'm sure she does too.)
Because right now, she and her husband and their wacky pursuit of conscientious community responsibility, are the exception, not the rule. Changing that would be a step in the right direction