Abandoned and neglected properties create eyesores across the region, and how they look is just the beginning of the problem.
Decaying properties can draw crime and lower surrounding property values, but city leaders in Lexington promise a new focus on the problem.
It didn't always look as bad as it has in the last few years. Pennington Place once was a vibrant community. "Once they moved everybody out, there was still food and groceries, and things like that," said Vicky Carter, "and then that's when we went to having a lot of the rat problems."
Carter has lived her whole life in the neighborhood across from Pennington, where she says people began sneaking in to the vacant units causing worse than just an eyesore. Lee Cook looked out across his lawn for years as the problems grew. "There had been fires just about every weekend. There would be firetrucks up and down the street. It would make it really hard for anybody to get in and out of their houses," Cook said.
City leaders are hopeful that a new owner at Pennington has put the property on a path to recovery, much like another historic eyesore under renovation. "The Lexington Mall property here was a different case than Pennington," Dr. Derek Paulsen said at an active construction site where the old mall stood for years in decay.
Lexington's new Planning Commissioner, Dr. Paulsen points to both projects as eventual success stories, but they demonstrate the problems that can lead to long delays at revitalizing neglected properties. "I think what we learned from Pennington is that as opposed to an individual home and the fines that go for an individual homeowner, a larger property such as Pennington, they'll absorb those fines even easier," Paulsen said.
But with individual homes the challenges can be just as striking. The process of fixing problem properties generally begins with complaints from the public. Code Enforcement inspectors begin fining owners, but those fines have to add up before public officials can take action. A dilapidated house on West Third Street in the Northside Lexington Historic District sat boarded accumulating thousands of dollars in penalties before attorneys for the out-of-state owner paid them at the eleventh hour. "There's going to be some situations where we do have an individual who will just keep taking the fines," Paulsen explained, "and when we finally get it to a state where we can try to go after a foreclosure and get it for sale, they come through and they pay the fines on that, and it goes back to stage one again."
Paulsen says the city has a new focus on chronically neglected properties, and city leaders are considering new approaches like one in Louisville in which vacant property owners can be taxed at three times the regular rate.
The plan is to streamline the path to renewal because as even some Pennington neighbors will tell you, there's hope for every neighborhood. "There hasn't been a fire in awhile," Cook said about the area around Pennington, "Every time we'll hear a siren of a firetruck, we kind of get up to look and see if it's going to be outside, but it always just passes us by, so that's been nice. That's been nice."
Since we started telling you about this story we've heard from a lot of you about more eyesores throughout the area. City leaders say they want to hear from you too. They tell us much of the work they do is complaint-driven, and that often begins the process for code enforcement. Within Fayette County, all you have to do is call 311 and give them the address of the problem property.
However, it's not just Lexington. WKYT heard from Heather Prushing on Facebook who wrote, "When I moved to my current home here in Fleming County in October, the home beside of us was horrible. No sewer system, trash piled up as tall as the house, it was just nasty. I put in one phone call to our Environmental Manager at the Health Dept. and the problem was taken care of, quickly."
We know it won't always be that easy. If you have a persistent eyesore where you live, let us know about it.