Newton County Spelling Bee
Covington has a problem. And a cure.
For years, the city has condemned and demolished numerous houses that frankly needed to be condemned and demolished. The neighborhoods have been improved by their subtraction.
But those empty lots have remained empty, through no fault of the city’s. Keeping up with the weeds has been a problem, though.
In the Covington Mills neighborhood, the old “Kudzu House” has become the kudzu lot. The land is badly overgrown, but its potential is obvious. It’s fairly big (at .44 acres) and located in the middle of the old houses that surrounded the area’s now-vanished namesake mill. With a lawnmower, some playground equipment and a few benches, the city can make it a beautiful place to play.
And the price tag is so perfect it amounts to a steal. The city council voted Monday to spend up to $25,000 for the lot. If somebody outbids them at the upcoming county tax sale, so be it. No matter what happens, the city will recoup $22,000 or so through a lien placed on the property during its demolition.
Best case scenario, the city winds up with a park it spent $3,000 to acquire. Worst case, the city gets back $22,000. That’s the definition of a no-lose deal.
For our part, we prefer the park. Covington Mills is disconnected from areas around it, separated from other city parks by the traffic monster known as U.S. 278. Moms with strollers can’t exactly visit city parks in safety without bundling the kids into the SUV and braving the highway.
With a park closer to home, the option of walking to a place to play becomes reality. Again, nobody loses.
But the kudzu park (not a bad name, city officials!) is the tip of the empty lot iceberg. The city has been properly aggressive in demolishing unsafe houses in recent years, making neighborhoods safer by eliminating places for vagrants to play and vermin to stay. Problem is, those empty lots now need to be mowed, and the city’s budget isn’t overflowing with lawncare cash.
So what to do? Good question. City officials say they’re working on a solution, possibly teaming with Habitat for Humanity for small, volunteer-built homes, or even forming a city affordable housing foundation of some sort. Maybe more parks are in order. Maybe not.
City officials should see those empty lots not as eyesores, but as opportunities. Done right – and the idea for a kudzu park is right – those lots could become beautiful little places for our kids to play.