East Macon neighborhood making strides toward renewal

Each shattered front window at 3341 Kings Park Circle looks out on an unkempt frontyard and a used condom in the street. The house’s front door gapes open.

Next door, Gertha Atis is finishing a master’s degree in special education. She’d like to turn the ransacked house into a 24-hour day care center.

The shattered houses and the dreams of something better are echoed across the Kings Park subdivision in east Bibb County. Home to perhaps 200 homes when the subdivision was launched 40 years ago, the now-struggling development is becoming a focal point for improvement efforts.

The Bibb County government has begun tearing down homes that burned long ago. Two of the six homes razed were in Kings Park. Another county employee checks for problems weekly. The sheriff’s office runs a substation nearby, at Jeffersonville and Mogul roads. And a county nuisance ordinance approved recently may offer better ways to enforce the laws.

But the biggest push may come from neighbors who are working together to clean up Kings Park.

“I wish you could get the neighborhood back to where it was,” said Allen Moss, who bought his house new 40 years ago. “It was beautiful.”

Clifford Johnson, who serves as vice president for a Kings Park homeowners association, said the group just wants blights fixed. While some residents and property owners are keeping their properties maintained, other homes are vacant or have both irresponsible residents and landlords, Johnson said.

A man with a Macon address owns one of the Kings Park homes that was torn down by the county. But the other house belongs to a woman in Hampton.

Another home targeted for demolition because a fire gutted it several months ago belongs to a Philadelphia, Pa., woman. Johnson said that owner is responsible and is looking for a contractor to demolish the house.

The house with the shattered windows belongs to a woman in Lawrenceville. Atis said the windows were broken a year ago.

The owners could not be reached for comment.

Johnson said demolition should only be a last resort. He said he’d much rather have the homes cleaned up.

“It’s a nuisance to the community and it’s an eyesore,” he said.

Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said the problems seen in Kings Park are found across the county.

The other burned-out homes the county tore down are spread across the map: Lakeshore Drive in east Bibb, not far from Kings Park; Abilene Trail, near Lake Wildwood; Lula Mae Boulevard, in Lizella; and West Oak Drive, just west of the Macon city limits and near Union Elementary School.

Edwards drafted the new nuisance ordinance, which can be used to fight piles of debris, noxious smells and other problems.

The problems aren’t new, and most of them already were illegal. But in 2002, deputies wrote about 30 tickets for junked cars in Kings Park, but most of the cars remained, The Telegraph reported.

The subdivision also benefits from a long-standing, semiannual trash cleanup. This month’s drive netted about 20 tons of trash, old appliances and other debris.

The new nuisance ordinance and the drive to tear down dilapidated housing could help turn Kings Park around.

“The complaints I get come from the older residents who are the long-term people who want to remove the eyesores and buildings that are hazardous to children and at least are alleged to be used for criminal activity,” Edwards said.

Johnson maintains that some of the house fires were the work of arsonists. Other homes have been broken into. The burned, vacant houses can be used by people doing drugs or by groups such as gangs as a meeting space.

While the city of Macon has been trying to tear down about 100 blighted homes each year, Bibb County started a few months ago. County Chief Administrative Officer Steve Layson said he hopes two or three homes can be demolished each month.

The county plans to create a “blight plan” to prioritize the problems and prioritize the demolition.

Each demolition can take months in court and plenty of paperwork. The county plans to get its money back, eventually, by placing liens that would have to be paid off before the owner could sell the property.

County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said the government hopes to reduce blight and encourage neighborhood investments.

The first six demolitions were a start on a much larger problem, he said, because plenty of properties continue to decline.

“We’ve got a request to look at some of ’em almost every time we meet,” he said.

But in Kings Park, blight is present in almost every view. Johnson moved to Kings Park in 1979 and raised five children in his home.

“I’d rather live in Kings Park than anywhere else,” he said.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was used in this report.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.