Tryon residents say their neighborhood is “out of sight, out of mind”

Published 9:55 pm Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dr. Warren Carson spoke to Tryon Town Council on Tuesday, Jan. 17 about the issues in Tryon’s Eastside neighborhood including housing code violations, overgrown lots, streets in disrepair, drainage issues, traffic violations, and city services like mowing and leaf pick up. The meeting drew about 50 residents. (photo by Leah Justice)

Dr. Warren Carson spoke to Tryon Town Council on Tuesday, Jan. 17 about the issues in Tryon’s Eastside neighborhood including housing code violations, overgrown lots, streets in disrepair, drainage issues, traffic violations, and city services like mowing and leaf pick up. The meeting drew about 50 residents. (photo by Leah Justice)

TRYON – Tryon Town Council held its Tuesday, Jan. 17 meeting in front of a packed audience, mostly from the Eastside community.


Dr. Warren Carson spoke on behalf of the neighborhood, speaking of residents still dealing with issues 15 years later, including housing code violations, overgrown lots, streets in disrepair, drainage issues, traffic violations and having to negotiate for routine services like side mowing and leaf pick up.

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There were almost 50 residents in attendance, and several spoke about issues in the Eastside community.


“We have effectively been out of sight and out of mind,” said Carson, who is the chair of the Eastside Citizen Advisory Committee. “That will stop tonight.”


Carson, a former Tryon Commissioner, said during his last year on council in 2002-2003, the town established the Eastside Citizens Advisory Committee to be comprised of five citizens from the Eastside Community and at least one town commissioner, who would meet regularly with town staff, including the town manager, the police chief, the fire chief the public works director and other staff as may be necessary, to address a myriad of issues and problems that existed in the community.


Some of the reasons the committee was formed included dealing with the removal of the blight caused by abandoned and dilapidated houses and the improvement of police interactions with the citizens, Carson said.


Carson and Eastside Committee member Dr. Joseph Fox both said prior to the establishment of the committee, town council meetings had become inundated with complaints about issues by Eastside residents and property owners.


“Due to the ad hoc nature of the advisory committee, not one of us expected to still be wrestling with these same issues 14 or 15 years later,” Carson said. “But here we are, in 2017, with a community still overrun with flagrant housing code violations, overgrown lots, streets in disrepair, drainage issues that threaten our homes and safe passage on the streets, traffic violations and still often having to negotiate for routine services like side mowing and leaf pick up.”


Carson did say over the years there have been some successes. He said about 14 structures that were code violations have been removed; some street improvements and infrastructure issues were addressed on East Livingston Street; the lower half of Peake Street was finally repaved last fall after being on the list for years; and this year, for the first time Carson said he could recall, the leaf machine was on the Eastside about three times within a month, even before the leaves had fallen.


“The late Beryl Dade would have been overjoyed,” Carson told town council.


Carson said despite the successes, which he admitted he may have forgotten a few, the work is not finished.


He said if you ride down East Howard Street from Oak Street to Peake Street, you will notice a number of houses and lots that need attention for being minimal housing code violations.


“Eastside property owners have pointed out on numerous occasions before that these are not just eyesores, but health hazards that also serve to bring down property values,” Carson said. “It seems to us that any work toward addressing these houses has come to a complete halt. Further, persons from outside of the community who have purchased houses for the purpose of rental or resale property have been allowed to do little or nothing to improve them for years and are often in violation of various codes such as not posting building permits or leaving trash in heaps in the yards, even some that is suspected to be asbestos filled.


“Several streets, including Cleveland, Aspen and Shepherd, are in serious disrepair. We continue to have issues with speeding and other traffic related issues on the Eastside, so much so that it is not safe to walk on any of the streets, and of course, there are no sidewalks on the Eastside.”


Carson said if the town spent a fraction of the time, money and effort on resolving Eastside issues that the town has spent on Trade Street, which the Eastside celebrates, he said, “We could make these things go away in no time flat.”


“We understand staff shortages, tight money and other projects and other parts of town that require attention,” Carson said. “We do not understand, and cannot accept, no action at all on the Eastside. For us, the Eastside matters.”


Commissioner Bill Ingham said he’s heard complaints and the town has worked on them.

“I apologize for the slowness,” Ingham said.


Ingham also said since Carson was on town council, the town probably has three quarters of the staff it had then. Ingham said he would look into it and try to do better.


Resident Nancy Johnson said Eastside issues have been on the agenda since 2003 and asked when the Trade Street improvements got on the agenda.


Ingham said the streetscape project has been a long project, too.


Commissioner Crys Armbrust asked staff how much it costs the town to remove a substandard house.


Community development director Paula Kempton said the town has to acquire the land and then it has to go through a process. She said the town just put four on the list for the attorney to review and has four more in the process.


Tryon Fire Chief Joey Davis said when the town tore down a mobile home on Rippy Road it cost $8,000. He said if the fire department burns a home for training it costs between $2,000-$3,000.


Town attorney Bailey Nager said the average is about $5,000, with some costing more and some costing less. That doesn’t count staff and attorney time, he said.


Armbrust said it seems to him all the projects mentioned are contingent on finding funding for them. He said the streetscape project has mostly been done with state grants. He said the town spent $700,000 on the Eastside sewer project with a grant.


“I do understand the level of frustration and it is most frustrating to work on a project for 15 years and I’ve worked on many projects 15 years,” Armbrust said.


Armbrust said the streetscape project started in 2001 and here we are in 2017 and it is three quarters of the way done.


“I don’t know what sort of grant funding is available for the removal of substandard housing but my guess is not much,” Armbrust said.


Commissioner Roy Miller, who also serves on the Eastside Citizens Advisory Committee, said the town has allocated money in the budget in the past for dilapidated housing but not in recent years. The streetscape project began in 2001, he said, but last year the town allocated $200,000 from its general fund balance.


“If we can approve $200,000, surely we can put $20,000 in the budget every year for not just the Eastside but all over town,” Miller said.


Part of the $200,000 allocation was to repave part of Peake Street and Howard Street.

Armbrust said the $200,000 the town approved was a temporary transfer because all the work was repaid when the town sold the building at 289 South Trade Street, which was gifted to the town.


Miller said the town really needs to “get on the boat” and say it’s going to do what it needs to do. He mentioned the town replacing the sewer trunk line on the Eastside a few years ago, but that was done after a woman complained for 13 years about town sewage running in her yard and her home.


Miller said that sewer line was not just for the Eastside but for the whole town because it’s the main line to the town’s sewer plant.


The last house the town demolished on the Eastside was at Fairview Circle in 2015. Miller said the town burned it at the owner’s request.

Tryon Mayor Alan Peoples said he doesn’t have sidewalks either, but that’s irrelevant. He said the town takes in approximately $800,000 a year in tax revenues and it spends a lot more than that. Peoples said money has to come from people coming into town. Peoples said what he is hearing is residents want the town to come in and cut the grass on these lots.


Carson said, essentially yes, but the community is certainly willing to have the conversation on ways to help.


Peoples said the town has discussed maybe donating some of the lots to Habitat for Humanity.


Kempton said Habitat currently has two homes on the Eastside that are in code violation currently.


“I hear all the reasons why we can’t do something,” Carson said. “Can we turn the conversation to maybe finding ways that we can? Let’s kind of turn that conversation to a more positive. That’s what we’re interested in.”


Resident Allen Suber II said it affects all of the town, especially the young men and women coming up.


“We have to find ways to make this happen,” Suber said. “After so many years it’s time for some action.”


Armbrust said he is willing to try to find a solution and said the town should put it in the dialogue about the upcoming budget.


Suber said the Eastside is not asking for anything that anyone else doesn’t want.


“You wouldn’t want to live there,” said Suber. “After 12 years we need a call to action.”


Coretha Littlejohn, who also serves on the Eastside Citizens Advisory Committee, said when she came back to the community she was appalled. She said when she joined the committee she asked how the same issues had been on the agenda for 15 years.


“It should’ve already been done,” said Littlejohn. “Everybody in here pays taxes.”


Littlejohn also said she’s lived in a lot of large cities and Tryon is too small to be divided up.


“It shouldn’t be the Eastside, Westside,” Littlejohn said. “It’s all Tryon.”


She said she brought some friends through Tryon recently and they said there is nothing that would attract them.


“That needs to change,” Littlejohn said. “Young people are our future and if we don’t give them something to aspire to in Tryon, Tryon is not going to survive.”


Miller said he agrees the town needs to stop dividing the town up and that it’s time council members start living up to the promises they made to get the vote.


“I think we forget about the Eastside a lot of the time,” Miller said. “If you ride through any other part of town it does not look like the eastside of town.”


Fox said he’s hearing a disconnect. He said over the 16 years he’s served on the Eastside Committee they have actually found grants but he’s not hearing that council is getting some of those recommendations. Fox said the residents are not at council saying the town should allocate funding, so that’s why the committee has tried to find recommendations.


“In 16 years I haven’t seen anyone take the lead,” Fox said.


Peoples said the next budget will have money specifically to go to the Eastside.

“I’m telling you these four people (commissioners) will put between $15,00-$20,000 to tear down houses,” Peoples said.


Miller said that is real money and that the town can also work on drainage issues that it has made promises to people to fix.

Resident Latisha Miller said she thinks it’s a responsibility on both sides.


“We have trash everywhere,” Latisha Miller said. “If we love our community the way we say we do, we can’t always have someone take care of us.”


Resident Wanda May said she doesn’t want council to come back next month and not have a plan. She suggested the town have a work session on the issues.


“None of this conversation will make any difference if we come back here in four weeks and just keep going,” said May. “It’s embarrassing to me to see how the Eastside is treated. It’s just not right.”