About four years ago, neighbors contacted Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s office about an abandoned home located at 1124 S. 48th St. that was almost falling down, according to abutting neighbor Jessica Roemer. After a number of conversations back and forth, and at the urging of the Councilwoman’s office, L&I demolished the blighted and dangerous structure.

At the time, neighbors expressed their interest in purchasing the lot and transforming it into a green space, according to Roemer. Blackwell’s office informed the neighbors they couldn’t buy the lot until it went through the sheriff’s sale process. As such, the neighbors were told that when the house was listed for sheriff’s sale, Blackwell’s office would inform the group.

The lot after demo

As time passed, neighbors tilled the lot a bit and installed five raised garden beds and a play area in the rear. About three years ago, a developer purchased the property at sheriff’s sale for just under $12K, according to Roemer. “Instead of checking the [sheriff’s sale] logs we believed them,” she said.

When neighbors first discovered the lot was sold they contacted the buyers and offered to purchase it for $18K. No deal. Then, after sitting on the lot for almost three years, the developers regrouped and resold the property for a little over $23K, according to public record. The neighbors then reached out to the new owners, who agreed to meet.

When they sat down together this spring, the developers brought blueprints of the structure they planned to erect. Neighbors tried to dissuade the developers from building. The neighbors collected 87 signatures to petition the project. In their petition, neighbors said they needed preservation in the area, not development. They offered to purchase the lot.

“It became pretty clear to me that we weren’t gonna offer what they wanted,” said Roemer.

They wanted $100K. According to Roemer, building commenced at the site in mid-July, eliminating the planters and the play area in the back. When we were first at the site in late July, the foundation had already been dug.

In late July

When we spoke with Roemer recently, the structure had been framed out.

We called Blackwell’s office to determine if this was simply a case of a communication breakdown, or an oversight, and we were surprised by the tone with which our questions were received.

“Who said there was a special arrangement?” said Hayes. “Did anyone write it down? I don’t know what you’re talking about sir.”

She quickly ended the questioning to prepare for a meeting. It seems likely that the Councilwoman’s staffers genuinely forgot about the project. When we spoke with Marty Cabry, Blackwell’s zoning guy, he remembered helping to demolish the home but was unsure what happened in terms of neighbors being unaware the property went to sheriff’s sale. It was a few years between initial discussions and the actual sale. Still, neighbors have lost a green space they were more than willing to purchase and maintain.

If only the neighbors would have regularly checked the (unsortable, purposefully confusing, and hard-to-find) sheriff’s sale listings. If only someone in Councilwoman Blackwell’s office would have remembered to check in with the neighbors before the sale. If only the first developers would have been willing to settle for a slightly lower profit right away instead of a slightly higher profit three years later. Several inflection points that all went against the neighbors’ hopes, unfortunately.

As this new home continues to rise, the neighbors are left to muse about what might have been.

–Lou Mancinelli