MOUNT VERNON — Relief. Wonderful. Thank God.
That's the reaction from neighbors upon learning that the Knox County Land Bank bought the dilapidated eyesore at 517 E. Burgess St.
“That house is one of, I would say, the worst nuisances in the city,” said Jeff Gottke, president of the land bank (aka Knox County Reutilization Corp.) “It's had numerous city property maintenance code violations and EPA violations. Since 2018, it's had 99 police calls.”
Those calls include drug distribution, burglary, outstanding warrants, domestic violence, and suspicious persons.
“It was a drug house,” said Knox County Prosecutor Chip McConville. “There were a number of calls there to the police, there was at least one fatal overdose in that house. There were drugs found in the house a number of times.
“We had a search warrant executed there last year,” he continued. “We were just about getting ready to serve a nuisance order on that house.”
Part of the recent delay with taking action on the property is due to COVID-19 relating to the previous owner evicting the tenants.
“That had been adjudicated and the people ordered to leave, but the police department did not have a chance to do the set-out before the court stayed all set-outs due to COVID,” explained Gottke.
The land bank typically acquires properties via donation, tax foreclosure, or serving as a pass-through entity from one owner to another pre-identified owner. In the case of 517 E. Burgess St., the land bank bought the property for $75,000.
“This is a house that the land bank acquired through non-preferred means, but we felt it represented enough of a nuisance that we felt we needed to purchase it,” said Gottke. “There is no end user in mind. The house will most likely be torn down.”
Gottke said the previous owner boarded up the house, so Gottke has not had a chance to view the inside. Based on conversations with those who have been inside, however, he said it does not sound like the house is conducive to rehabbing.
“That's why I can't commit to demolition, but I'm 80 percent sure it will be demolished,” said Gottke. “Once we get inside, we'll evaluate it, and then we'll follow the traditional sales process, or we'll demo it and have to figure out what to do with the lot.”
As part of the land bank's agreement with the Mount Vernon Police Department, the MVPD will conduct training exercises in the house in July.
“The neighbors and city feel good about the land bank acquisition because of the negative effects [the property has] had on the neighborhood,” said Gottke.
Sugar Street resident and Councilman Mike Hillier, whose Fourth Ward includes Burgess Street, said action is “long time overdue.”
“It's a property that the landlord let get out of hand and the city has had numerous problems with,” he said. “Thank God the land bank got a hold of it. Thanks to the pressure from the neighbors and a few on council, we got this accomplished.”
“Obviously, this is a big win for everybody,” said McConville. “We get a haven for drug activity shut down, and it gets into the right hands for something to be done with it.”