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Talmadge Layton lives next to an unsightly mess on Clearview Street in Southwest Decatur. He has given up hope that the owner of the yard, Gary Shelton, will clear the mess away.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Talmadge Layton lives next to an unsightly mess on Clearview Street in Southwest Decatur. He has given up hope that the owner of the yard, Gary Shelton, will clear the mess away.

Beauty amid blight
Decatur residents fighting to clean up neighborhoods

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com 340-2442

Decatur residents are taking pride in reversing the decline of some of the city's older neighborhoods by creating beauty next to neighborhood blight.

During a community meeting at First Baptist Church of Austinville, residents complained about a homeowner who keeps vehicles — some filled with junk — on his lawn and refuses to cut his grass.

The Daily went by Gary A. Shelton's home on Clearview Street Southwest and found a red sign placed in his yard by the city on March 8. The sign has since been removed, but the violation remains.

Shelton didn't answer his door, and there is no phone listing for the home. Two homes next to Shelton's are for sale. Residents say the homes have been on the market for at least a year because no one wants to live next to him.

A frequent offender

Decatur Mayor Don Kyle said Shelton is a "frequent flier" with city code inspectors, having been cited for 15 violations since 1992.

Talmadge Layton, who lives next door, said he offered to let Shelton borrow his lawn mower once.

"I used to go to community meetings, but couldn't get anything done," Layton said. "I'd like to see something done. Someone made the statement they don't think he lives there anymore, and that it's just a place to store junk."

Abandoned homes and ignored lawns are also an eyesore on Sixth Avenue Southwest, said Rose and Wayne Pelham and their 12-year-old daughter Hilda Layport. They spend their free time picking up trash as part of the Dream Center's Adopt-A-Block program, which is affiliated with Calvary Assembly of God.

Rose Pelham moved to Decatur eight months ago after hurricanes Charlie and Katrina chased her from her Arcadia, Fla., and Hattiesburg, Miss., homes.

"I love Decatur," Pelham said. "I lived here 13 years ago when my grandmother was murdered in Moulton. I love a beautiful yard. It usually looks better than this."

The Pelhams joined the Dream Center to help others. Kim Upton, director of the women's recovery program, said volunteers visit the elderly and sick and help with yardwork and repairs for the needy.

"It's our chance to help out," Rose Pelham said. "When Hurricane Charlie hit, I lost everything, my car, my home. I'm just trying to return the favor. With the blessings of God, I can do all this and hold down two jobs."

Pelham planted roses and bought a stone water fountain, which adorns her Sixth Avenue Southwest home. Pelham's mother Anna Crosby and her husband Jimmy Crosby live next door. They bought a windmill and planted roses along their walk to adorn their manicured lawn.

The Crosbys wish owners of a nearby vacant home would improve their lot, remove broken mailboxes and take pride in the neighborhood.

"We're going to put up a picket fence and plant some more flowers," Jimmy Crosby said. "Some people just don't care. Those houses have been vacant at least a year. We're trying to keep the neighborhood looking clean."

Some of the Crosbys' neighbors park their cars in yards, which are little more than dirt pits. The Crosbys said they would like to see Decatur adopt an ordinance similar to the one passed by the city of Madison last year, which prohibits people from parking on lawns.

"They ought to park in the driveway or in the back," Jimmy Crosby said.

Tammy Jones, who lives on Sixth Avenue Southwest with her husband Samuel Jones, is another example of someone who understands community pride. Her flower gardens and decorations brighten her street.

"I do it because I want my neighborhood to look nice," Jones said. "My husband has lived here for 30 years, and we remarried two years ago. When I came back, there wasn't a flower around the house."

E.L. Byars' home in Southeast Decatur is another blooming beauty. She spends many of her days collecting street litter and called Kyle about the problem.

"I told Mr. Kyle if I hadn't gotten him on the phone I was going to come up to your office and bring you the bags of trash I picked up," Byars said. "I don't want Decatur to get too junky. The governor needs to send someone to Tennessee and see how they keep their streets clean. Alabama can do better than this."

Byars said she has lived in her Enolam Street Southeast home since 1965.

"When older people lived in the neighborhood, they took pride in their yards," she said. "When there are four or more vacant houses on one block, no one wants to buy houses because of the way they look, and people don't take care of their rental homes."

Lou Ann Corazzari returned to Decatur last June after living 40 years in Chicago, Wisconsin and Boston. She wants the city to become more proactive in litter enforcement and removal.

"I don't know if the (litter) problem has gotten worse, or I'm just noticing it more," Corazzari said. "I think the Chamber of Commerce, businesses and everybody should be involved. It's hard to believe the city has gotten to this state."

Kyle said the city's Beautification Department is working on an educational program designed to teach children not to litter, and Councilman Ray Metzger was instrumental in helping start a litter hotline to report violators.

Although the city collects litter from its major thoroughfares, it needs residents and business owners to help keep Decatur neighborhoods and commercial districts clean, Kyle said.

"I'm well aware of having to pick up other peoples' trash to keep your neighborhood nice," he said, of the garbage that lined the fence of his former business. "But people don't want to pay more taxes and (citywide litter removal) is not something we've got the money for right now. We have to educate our young people for the future and hopefully parents, too."

Litter attack

To report litter violators call 341-4778. Interested in volunteering through the Dream Center? Call the Rev. Danny Gibson at 350-0615.

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