Friday, March 31, 2006

Hyperlocal Blogging

It's been a while since I blogged on the neighborhood. Let's catch up.

We were surprised when, a couple of months ago, the corner at Avalon and Monroe sprouted a sign from the Office of Planning and Development saying that the large grassy plot on a small hill about head level was going to be rezoned. We had all though the whole corner belonged to the woman who owned the large house there, but apparently not.

I called the OPD and learned it was not as we feared -- a residential plot being zoned commercial for a bar or something -- but the opposite! The lot had been unused commercial for nearly twenty years and was now being zoned for a single-family dwelling.

We were happy to hear that. The east end of the block is now all single family homes, except the apartments right behind Sekisui. Two new family homes were built on the small empty lot we had been using as a pocket park and that sparked some rehabbing of other homes around it. The eastern half of our block of Monroe looks really nice nowadays.

(Although: You never see any of the new families outside. Never. Fear of the other half of the block is very strong.)

The western half is all run-down apartments and multiple-family housing. Slum landlords rule there. The woman who runs the three-story, glass front Glenmanor Apartments tries to keep things up and keep out the problems, but does so sporadically. The duplex next door seems to have been abandoned; it had been fired on and had a drunk driver crash through their fence and into the side of the building right in the main bedroom. Another building was bought recently by some speculators who put some money into rehab and then promptly filled the building back up. They are staying, but are shocked by the rest of their neighbors.

There are six buildings (my complex has three; the others are free-standing) owned by a company that simply doesn't care. Buildings are allowed to run down; repairs are rare. Tenants, when they get them, are usually gone shortly after moving in. The drug dealers, lieutenants, hookers and drug users chase them off.

Take my complex. There are three buildings, but two are nearly empty. Windows not boarded up are broken out. The remaining apartments have all been vandalised after being broken into. Trash over every description blows along. (Every description.) Drug traffic constantly parades in and out of Bo's apartment. The other lone tenant, a middle-aged black woman, is never seen unless driving in or out of the complex. It's a bombed-out, deserted, dark and scary place. Right behind my apartment.

The third building is mine, up front on the street. We presently have five tenants out of eight apartments. One of the apartmetns was recently rebuilt from the studs out because of an accidental fire that consumed it. But the guy who moved in turned out to be a friend of Bo's and within a couple of months he had a fully-fledged drug operation going there. By the time he got thrown out the apartment was trashed. You'd never know it was brand new.

It was pretty frightening for some. It was frustrating for me, having to deal with hostile glares from strangers standing out on the front walk. I live here, asshole, I kept thinking as some shiftless crackhead scanned me. It was a constant battle to replace lightbulbs either broken or stolen to keep it dark. The landlord has yet to fix two damaged fixtures we've reported. We've had to put up with petty thievery, the druggies preying on each other, the hustlers, the toughs and the crazies, arguments at every hour of the day, you name it. Nothing happens, despite calls to the landlord and police.

And remember: this was the place that made the local news in 2004 when the District Attorney, sheriffs and every news station in town descended on us to show how tough the DA and cops were on crime. They didn't arrest anyone because there was no one home; they'd been warned in advance. Now it's like nothing happened back then.

That guy in front finally got evicted after he stopped paying rent. Not Bo the main dealer, for some reason. I watched a major raid involving 12 officers several months back on his apartment; one of many police visits. They found drugs and a gun; Bo's a felon so guns are a violation for him. They also found two trashbags full of stolen merchandise. Bo was taken downtown, but was back the very next morning.

Their associate across the street (who used to live over here and was somehow able to get a new lease over there despite the landlord knowing who she was) is also still operating, and just rented a second apartment to spread out her crew. Traffic over there is even worse. Tenants have moved out as soon as three days after moving in. I'm told they are putting together a petition to give the landlord: either she goes or they all go.

It's no wonder the landlord can't get folks to move in. I even watched one day as someone in a red sports car pulled up and stole all the "Now renting" sign frames from the front yards. He was gone before I could get his license number. It seems emblematic of our block.

So, enough digression. When we learned about the new house on the corner, it was good news. If it spurs our landlord to either sell or fix up, that's good. And just yesterday they laid out the wood frame for the concrete slab foundation. Soon come, as they say. It's well back from the corner itself which should be attractive. Nice view from up there, too.

Down on the corner of Belvedere and Monroe, the new strip mall is finally finishing up. They promised to be open by October, but it was March before the first business opened. Now, they have five businesses (Baskin-Robbins, Cingular, Bensinger's Cleaning, High Point Coffee, BA Framer and Pei Wei) in various stages of opening.

It's a nice looking mall, I have to admit. Loeb Properties spent more than the minimum, putting in brick finish, finial-like knobs on the columns, terracotta medallions, and more. Not sure how I feel about an ice-cream store at the end of the street, though....

It's also interesting that several of the businesses are simply relocating from another spot on Union. (BA Framers from the Kimbrough Tower and Bensinger's from the small mall at Union and McLean.) Is the new mall's prestige worth the increased rent? Location and access don't seem to be that much better at all.

Does anyone know about Pei Wei? It says "Asian diner" on the sign, which to me screams overpriced, but the thought of another cheap Asian eatery next door (along with Dragon China buffet, of course, and Pho Hoa Binh) has me salivating. Still, it's in a brand new, upscale strip mall (harhar) which I doubt means "affordable." Hope survives....

The Wendy's on Union, after months of inactivity following the kitchen fire, is rebuilding and looks only a few weeks from re-opening. It's the same frame, but with a new double-window drivethrough, a moved side door and a new paint job. I can't wait for it to come back, but only if they replace the sullen and indifferent staff there.

The huge rug store next door to Wendy's is going out of business. What's going to happen to all that retail space in that rundown building is anyone's guess.

So there you go! Drug traffic is still an ongoing problem, though it's slightly better than before. New residential building might spark more rehabbing. New economic development all around.

Such is life on my block of Monroe in Midtown.

SATURDAY NIGHT UPDATE: Thanks to Jeremy in comments for pointing me to Pei Wei's corporate website, where you can also view a generic menu for the chain. Looks yummy, if not very cheap.

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