And it seems to stay that way, handed down from one generation that shuts its eyes to the problem to another that may actually think things are supposed to look that way, although with some recent attempts (South Rome action, East Rome dreams, Housing Authority upgrades) to attack ... well, ugly sights.
The writer and this newspaper have for too long been unwilling witnesses to all this doing of nothing.
More than 20 years ago, new in town and looking for a home, the writer was guided to a lovely, well-maintained, large Victorian in a historic district. Leaving, he turned a corner and found himself in a “Tobacco Road” that backed up on the high rear wooden fence of the property he had just toured. Maybe, he thought, those were the “slave quarters” when the Victorian was a plantation house. At least, that was the impression left.
Too much of Rome is still like that — including that original visitation site.
RECENTLY, after 25 years of routinely driving past a large overgrown lot in the old Forrestville area, he finally surrendered to curiosity. That property at the sidewalk had a stone retaining wall with steps cut into it identical to those still seen at some occupied houses in the Between the Rivers Historic District and along South Broad Street. Clearly, it dated back to that time (and craftsman). But what had been there before?
The “newest” of the old Sanborn fire maps for Rome — 1915 — showed there had been a house there. Perhaps it burned down in 1916 and the lot, at a fairly busy intersection, has been vacant ever since.
This sort of thing is a nasty, difficult problem for any community — government and/or residents — to tackle. And let’s be blunt: Humans create nice things; humans cause junky things.
Some unsightly heaps involve decrepit structures with absentee owners hidden behind legal and out-of-state mazes; some above-ground landfills involve “red-tagged” structures unfit for even rat occupation; some kudzu farms involve foreclosures or tax delinquencies that if action is taken simply hands the problem off to the public purse; much of it involves messes that began in the now-lost mists of time or because of the long-ago lack of any zoning whatsoever. However, mostly it has resulted because somebody with ownership responsibility just didn’t care.
ADDITIONALLY, and indistinguishable to the uniformed eye, there are at least 25 and probably more neglected/abandoned cemeteries (family, black, of dearly departed churches) that look like overgrown woodlots that are known to exist in the county.
All of this is jarring unless one learns to be blind to it, makes believe it is not there.
Some of the slight awareness of this problem apparently involves the mouthing of good intentions, such as learning the Rome-Floyd County Land Bank Authority, invented about five years ago to tackle just one aspect of this mess, seems not to have met in that time and is only in charge of the fate of about five empty lots anyway.
Yet the visual jolt that Greater Rome offers — as though the downtown Masonic lodge shared the same block with a trailer park — drags down the impressions left to visitors and/or potential business prospects and new residents. j
As noted by this space before — and it wasn’t a joke — the poor chamber of commerce types have to be really, really careful about their routes as they guide prospects around.
A recent change in the state authorizing law for such land-bank entities, created to supposedly turn forgotten old lots into affordable single-family housing again, has revived interest because now there might be funding. It would work like the better-known TAD (tax anticipation district) concept used for business development: Up to 75 percent of property taxes generated by redevelopment of such properties would go to help pay for improvements made (school taxes excluded).
THAT’S NOT a lot of money, even if Habitat for Humanity can be talked into taking over the effort (the original concept). City Manager John Bennett believes the county may have as many as 50 lots eligible for land-bank action. However, that’s mostly the vacant kudzu farms. There probably are as many as 1,000 properties or more that should be torn down or bush-hogged monthly in Greater Rome even if nothing actually is put up on them until the economy heals. Not exactly the ideal moment to bootstrap new lower-income construction, now is it?
But at least this is a seed that maybe somebody will actually plant instead on putting it in a sealed jar on a shelf for use some five years ... or 50 years ... in the future. It would be far better to plant an entire field of action now in order to harvest a better visual crop while all of us can still see it.
A joint city/county task force agency should be created to address every aspect of this seemingly never-ending problem. Not only the vacant lots but the derelict, falling-down houses as well. Assuming funding in these times would be a problem then community nonprofit/church/private-sector involvement should be sought.
Each one could tackle a single manageable lot with an “Adopt a Hovel” or “Turn Kudzu into a Kids Playground” concept.
SIMPLY PUT, doing something — anything — about this problem would be better than what has been done up to now, which is nothing to not much to far from enough.