Council votes to acquire historic property

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City Council voted Tuesday to acquire this house at 523 East Oklahoma Avenue for purposes of historical preservation. Photo by Moira Charnot.

The Old North Knoxville Historic District is famous for the preservation of its historic Victorian, neo-Classical, and Queen Anne-style homes. 

One house, however, has been noted for its neglect. 

The house at 523 E. Oklahoma Avenue has sat vacant since it was purchased by its current owner in 1978. Numerous complaints have been made about the property, which has fallen into disrepair and is without most of its permanent utilities.

The City of Knoxville now hopes to rehabilitate it, with City Council voting 6-1 to acquire the deteriorating property at their Tuesday night meeting. 

The property will be marketed through the Homemaker’s Program, which is dedicated to repurposing substandard properties by selling them to individuals, businesses, and nonprofits. The program’s goal is to remove blight, redevelop neighborhoods and provide opportunities for affordable housing.

Those who buy property through the Homeowner’s Program are required to either construct a new dwelling on the property or rehabilitate the structure that already exists, ensuring that it will not be abandoned again. 

Several residents who live near the E. Oklahoma Ave. property described their trials to the assembled Council members. 

“That property has sat vacant for the entire time that I have been here, and it has just continued to deteriorate,” said Christine Dummer, one of the property’s frustrated neighbors.

Knoxville resident Christine Dummer speaking during public forum at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Photo by Moira Charnot.

Dummer described some of the problems the neighborhood has been forced to deal with, such as paying for a large, dead oak tree to be removed when it posed a danger to the property next door.

“The Homemakers Program is the only opportunity we have where somebody’s going to have the title to this property and is going to take a lot of time and a great deal of financial resources to be able to bring it back to where it should be,” Dummer continued. “If it were allowed to continue to deteriorate, then sadly all of the historical attributes of the house would just wind up at a landfill somewhere.”

However, the decision to acquire 523 E. Oklahoma Ave sparked a debate between Council members Lauren Rider and Amelia Parker. 

Parker, who was the only council member to vote against the resolution, said that she couldn’t support the action during the ongoing pandemic.

“The current times that we’re living in require us to take a different direction and not continue doing the same things that they’ve been doing,” Parker explained. “We are at a point where we need to create strategies that also address other priorities in the city, and affordable housing has to be at the top of that list.”

She continued: “When I saw the house, it looked like a beautiful group home, a beautiful domestic violence shelter. These old historic homes allow for beautiful opportunities to address some of the larger issues that we’re dealing with in the city.”

Council member Lauren Rider pointed out the number of code violations issued against the property and how the neighborhood has been forced to watched the building deteriorate for decades.

“We had to beg the city to take action on private property—hoarded private property, I’m going to call it what it is,” Rider said. “That is not how the taxpayers’ dollars should be used, to protect other people from negligent homeowners, who collect properties and don’t use them.”

Moira Charnot can be reached at news@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on August 25, 2021