Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

September 25, 2013

The 'House Along Sycamore': Home prompts debate over city standards

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — A house along Sycamore Street has become an object of contention in a debate over Jacksonville's house and building standards.

At least one pro-Jacksonville enthusiast contends this structure along the 200 block of Sycamore is an eyesore and an example of the town's visual decline. She has distributed numerous memos about it and also posted the information online.

Both the current owner – Chris Jones, 33 – and city officials acknowledge that this house was once condemned. But, they add, the problems that led to that legal designation have been resolved.

The state of Jones' home was a major focus of a Sept. 19 Jacksonville Town Hall meeting – the topics of which were led mostly by citizens. The meeting was initially prompted by concerns about the state of the destroyed, debris-riddled Yum Yum's, 215 S. Main Street. But it also addressed issues such as potential asbestos and code enforcement.

Prior to the meeting, Whitney Graham Carter – who identifies herself on her Facebook page as a member of "Team Jacksonville" – distributed a two-page memo to many of the 70-plus residents who attended. (It came with a “Team Jacksonville” letterhead.)

The memo displayed photos of Jones' home, claiming it is “a possible drug house,” and citing it as an example of alleged nuisances. This information also was posted on Carter's Facebook profile, although it has since been removed, Jones said.

The memo also contended that at various times, the house has had broken windows, housed unsecured property, was used as a dumping ground, and did not have electricity or running water.

“We need a system in place that does not allow people to rent substandard housing,” the memo stated.

Jones, who works locally as a handyman, carpenter and roofer, said he didn't know what to think when he learned about the Facebook posts about his home from his boss and coworkers.

He learned about it the same day as the town hall meeting.

“At first, I thought they were all playing a prank on me,” Jones said. “But they told me it wasn't a joke. So I got off work and barely made it to the meeting on time. I wanted to know why my home was posted all over Facebook and why it was being called a ‘drug house’ and a ‘junk pile.’”

Jones said his yard was a bit messy at the time the photos of it were taken. There were tree clippings in the yard and some personal belongings such as a fishing trailer laying around.  But nothing there rose to the level cited in the memo, he said.

“I couldn't understand how anyone could get away with posting something like that all over Facebook when there are so many other houses on the same street with cars on the wrong side of the road facing the wrong way – long trailers parked in the road and things like that,” Jones said.  “Why couldn't she have taken pictures of them?”

Jones said he believes the depiction of his fishing trailer as “a truck bed topped with a boat, topped with junk and an umbrella” was unfair.

“There was a cooler, some fishing poles, oars, grills and things like that,” he said. “But nothing that violates city code.”

Identifying himself by name at the town hall meeting, Jones asked if these photos had been published by the city – because he was concerned it meant his home had been once again condemned. Public Works Director Will Cole assured Jones the photos had been published by a private citizen and did not represent official city action in any way.

After the meeting, Cole explained to a  Jackson-ville Daily Progress reporter that Jones purchased the house about five months ago.  

“He found out he couldn't move in to the house until those problems were corrected, so he hired an electrician and a plumber and got the permits and fixed it,” Cole said. “Once it was approved he moved in. He is not in any violation now.”

City Manager Mo Raissi agreed.

“After he learned it had been condemned, he brought it up to code,” Raissi said. "He did exactly what the city asked of him.”

Jones said neither he nor the owner, who is financing the home for Jones – Ron Boren of Boren-Conner Funeral Home – knew the home was condemned when he started the process of buying it.

“I'm paying $350 a month for this house,” he said. “I have only been living here a month and a half. I work hard. I don't make a lot of money. I'm a single person with no one to help pay. There's no way I can make it look like a brand new home right now. I'm going to need a good year to do something like that.”

 As Jones was talking at the meeting, Carter arose from her seat and restated the memo's assertion about his home and the city's visual standards. Carter attributed many of these problems to “slum lords.”

It's an important issue to people who “care what Jacksonville looks like and how we function as a city,” she said.

“Because when you look at Henderson, Whitehouse, Bullard or Troup, it does not look like this – at all,” Carter said in an exchange video-recorded by the reporter and posted on YouTube. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFnXmerjJic)

Carter told Jones that one major visual distraction is because his home is “behind your junk in the street.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2CiGaM3mB0)

The reporter invited Carter to elaborate on her comments, but she declined to do so.