Thursday, June 24, 2010

Neighbors in Greenfield Village pulled together this weekend to help raise money for Jada Nyree McElwaine’s funeral. The little girl passed away in a tragic fire in her townhome earlier this month. Pictured left to right are: Kaleena Guthrie, Carolyn O’Neal, Mariyah Guthrie, Makayla Patterson, Ver-Nisha Carney, Rian Johnson and Ronnetta Pruitt, Ronald Pruitt,  Taeylor Guthrie, Krisandra Harrison and Torre Diamond. (Photo by Paul Thompson)

Hickman Mills Central Office Closes Due to Flooding

By Andrea Wood

Flood waters damaged several buildings in the Hickman Mills C-1 School District, and have caused the administrative building to close while repairs are being done.

Up to nine inches of water filled the Hickman Mills C-1 Administrative Building last week, forcing the June 17th school board meeting to be moved to the Baptiste Educational Center.

“We do have flood insurance,” John Baccala, a representative of the district, said. “The damage is substantial to the administrative building, which may take up to a month to repair.”

Dry wall and carpeting are being removed inside the building, and those staff members whose offices were in the building have been shifted to other locations throughout the district.

Since the entire Administrative Office building is closed, Hickman Mills C-1 parents and patrons will need to call (816) 316-7084 should they have questions about the 2010-11 school year.

In addition to the Administraive Office damage, a portion of ceiling in the Ruskin Media Center conference room collapsed due to the extensive rains, and the Hickman Mills building also saw minor flooding.

Floods Wash Away Part of Blue River Road

By Andrea Wood

Floods last week have ripped a portion of Blue River Road nearly in half, as water washed away the road’s base. 

The damage occurred on June 16th, just north of the area where I-435 crosses Blue River Road. 

Due to the extent of the damage, the KCMO Public Works Department is advising motorists that Blue River Road, between Bannister Road and Chestnut Drive, will be closed for an extended period of time.

“This is a pretty severe road failure,” said Dennis Gagnon with the Public Works Department. “We’re in the process of evaluating how bad the slip is, and how far it goes into the bluff. Our main concern right now is a water line that runs right there...we don’t want to lose that line.” 

During the closure, access to local soccer fields immediately south of Bannister Road will be maintained, as the section of Blue River Road that lies between Bannister Road and the soccer fields will remain open to local traffic.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Where Everybody Knew Your Name...

Regulars, staff remember 30 years of good food and friendship at Bill & Tiney’s
By Seann McAnally

For 30 years, the family staff of Bill & Tiney’s Restaurant has served up a lot of down-home cooking. Ask the regular customers, and they’ll tell you the restaurant has also served up a lot of love. 

Owner Dan Holder recently made the tough decision to close the family-style restaurant, which has been a south KC landmark on Hickman Mills Drive for three decades.  

“We would have started our 31st year in October,” Dan said as he looked wistfully around the restaurant he’s called home for most of his adult life.
Bill & Tiney’s will close its doors for good on Sunday, June 12 – if the food lasts. 

“It’s about saying goodbye to people who are like family to us,” Dan said.
And that’s not easy, he added. 

“This place has been such a mainstay of our lives for so long,” he said. “We don’t really think of people as customers, but as family. It’s like saying, ‘goodbye until I don’t know when.’” 

Dan literally grew up in the restaurant business. His mom, Tiney, used to wait tables while she was pregnant with him. Before that, she’d been working in restaurants since she was 13, and is still going strong today, some 60 years later. 

“I like to say I’m 49 years old but I’ve been in the restaurant business 50 years,” Dan said. 

He opened Bill & Tiney’s with him mom and his dad, Bill, in 1972. They moved to the current location – a former showroom for an auto dealer – in 1979 and opened in 1980. 

Since that time, it’s been a second home to the Holder family.

It’s also the quintessential “family business,” with everyone pitching in. 
There’s even a little room in the back, within view of the kitchen, where two generations of children have played while their parents worked. 

Bill passed away in 1996, and since then Tiney and Dan have kept it going more-or-less on their own. 

Dan works full-time in the grocery business as well, and he’s been putting much of what he makes back into the restaurant for too long, he said. 

“About 10 years ago, they closed off both sides of Hickman Mills Drive,” Dan said. “So if you didn’t know where it was, you couldn’t get here. There’s been almost no drive-by traffic or new customers.” 

Over time, despite a loyal family of customers, the trickling off of traffic has just been too much for the restaurant to bear, financially. 

But Dan is philosophical about it. 

“Sometimes one door has to close before another can open,” he said. 

As for feelings of family, Bill & Tiney’s regulars feel the same way. 

Julie Larimer and her son Jacob visited the restaurant last Friday to spend some time with fellow members of the Bill & Tiney’s family. 

“Everybody is close,” Larimer said as Jacob played around her feet. “You get to know all the regulars. Jacob’s been coming here since he was in my belly.” 

Bill and Betty Hartman playfully disagreed on how long they’ve been eating at Bill & Tiney’s, but they agree that it’s one of their favorite places to go. 

“We like the food, and also the social atmosphere and the people,” Betty said. “It’s a place you can come and make new friends.” 

“And we can sit here as long as we like,” Bill said with a mischievous gleam in his eye. 

“That’s right,” Dan chimed in. “We don’t charge by the hour.”

At a corner table awash in afternoon sunlight, the Goering family – Ted, Joyce and their daughters Andrea and Erika – remembered the first time they came to the restaurant about 12 years ago. On that day, as the Goerings walked in, Tiney got the phone call that her granddaughter, Dan’s daughter Ashley, had been killed in a car accident. 

“We feel very close to them because of that,” Ted said. His family kept coming to the restaurant, and eventually he and Dan struck up a friendship based on their mutual interest in paranormal phenomena. Ted’s cartoon, “The Real Truth About UFOs,” hangs on the restaurant wall along with family photos and other memorabilia. 

Ted’s daughter Erika, now in college, said she’s been coming to the restaurant since she was little. 

“I like to joke it’s like Cheers,” she said, “where everybody knows your name.”
Her mom, Joyce, said she likes the quiet, laid-back, friendly atmosphere. 

“We come sometimes just to sit and relax and have coffee,” she said. “Sometimes the big chain restaurants are too loud. We like to come here and just chill.” 

The Goerings, Hartmans and Larimer all said they also like Tiney’s cooking. She specializes in down-home-style vittles like biscuits and gravy, ham and beans, meatloaf, and her famous bread pudding. 

But don’t ask Tiney for the secret family recipes – they’re all in her head. 

“I just do it the way I’ve been doing it for years and years,” Tiney said. “I never write anything down. Once a friend asked for my chili recipe, and I told him I’d have to wait until the next time I cooked it and write down how I did it.”

When her friend finally made “her” chili, Tiney asked him how it was.
“He said, ‘it doesn’t taste as good as yours,’” she said with pride and a touch of humor. 

It’s that love of both food and people that has kept Tiney coming back to cook and wait tables for six decades. 

“I love people, and I love to feed people,” she said. 

But after next Sunday, Tiney will take up a long-overdue and much-deserved retirement. 

“I don’t think she’ll be bored,” Dan said, gesturing at Tiney feeding her great-grandson, Dominic, while her great-granddaughter Kaydence happily munched away at her lunch. Tiney said she’ll keep busy helping Dan care for his grandchildren and just relaxing and enjoying life. 

“For 60 years she’s been doing this,” Dan said, watching Tiney work from across the room, love and admiration apparent on his face. “It’s time.” 

But Tiney won’t stop cooking, much to the delight of her great-granddaughter.
“Her french fries and omelets are really good,” Kaydence said, giving a thumbs-up sign – a compliment that put a big smile on Tiney’s face.  

Dan said almost everything in the restaurant except for a few keepsakes is for sale, including antique bar and stools, kitchen equipment, tables, chairs, and whatnot. 

As he walked through the restaurant, chatting with customers and playing with his grandkids, Dan said he’d miss it. 

“It’s like moving away from family,” he said. 

But he’s also excited about the future. He talked about a new pool he’s installing in his yard for the grandkids to swim in this summer.
“We’ve got a good thing going,” he said as he looked at his family. 

One of Dan’s favorite sayings is “Aloha Shalom.” 

“One is a Pacific Islander word and the other is Jewish, but they both mean the same thing,” he said. “Hello, I love you until I meet you again.” 

He’s been saying that a lot lately.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fixing Forgotten Foreclosures

By Seann McAnally

Jerry Mitchell drove his pick-up truck through the winding streets of the Ruskin neighborhoods. Sunlight rippled through tall old trees. Birds sang. A few kids played in their yards. Occasionally, a neighbor out walking would recognize Mitchell’s truck and give him a friendly wave. 

Then, turning a corner, Mitchell’s face fell as a boarded-up house came into view. Unruly, waist-high grass covered the yard. The roof sagged. Broken windows gaped. 

“I hate to say it,” Mitchell said, “but we’re a first-ring suburb with inner city problems.”

As the volunteer community liaison officer for Ruskin Heights, Ruskin Hills and Ruskin Village, Mitchell and his truck are familiar sights in the Ruskin neighborhoods. He is often a bridge between the people of the neighborhoods and government officials, listening to problems and finding solutions.
The number one problem Mitchell is tackling these days is the slew of abandoned and foreclosed properties in the Ruskin neighborhoods. 

“This zip code is the second-highest in the state, in terms of foreclosures,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been hit hard here in Ruskin. There are about 125 houses in the Ruskin neighborhood that are abandoned, or have been foreclosed on by the banks,” Mitchell said, pointing at a house with broken windows, moldy siding, and “dangerous building” boarding right across the street from Symington Elementary School. 

Indeed, the otherwise pleasant drive through the neighborhoods was marred by dozens of crumbling, empty, dangerous houses on lots covered with rampant overgrowth. 

 “I’m the one out on the front line,” he said as he got out of his truck and walked behind a boarded-up house.

Cleaning up his neighborhood is a job he takes seriously, and a new federal tool is helping Mitchell and others in Kansas City battle the blight caused by abandoned homes.

The federal Neighborhood Stabilization program is in effect all across the nation, and Kansas City has some $7.1 million in program funds this year to purchase and rehabilitate foreclosed and abandoned properties. 

South Kansas City is a high priority for the new program, and several homes in the Fairwood, Robandee and Loma Vista neighborhoods have already been purchased by the city and rehabilitated (see a list of homes for sale on the Kansas City Neighborhood Stabilization Program website,
The first step in getting a house into the program is to identify the foreclosed property and file a nuisance suit against the owner—which is usually a bank or mortgage company, but can sometimes be an individual who has moved away, but still owns the property. Some homes, for example, are being used as storage facilities for owners as far away as Denver or California. 

To qualify as being a nuisance the house has to have at least two years of back property taxes owed against it, and at least a two-year history of code violations. Ruskin is in the process of identifying these dangerous homes and filing suit against the owners. So far, the Ruskin neighborhood associations have filed suit on about 20 properties. But not just any houses. 

“We’re not out here picking on minor little things,” Mitchell explained. “These are serious health and safety issues.”

Mitchell said some residents think there is a “forced” sale involved with the program, similar to the use of eminent domain. But that’s a misconception, he said. The Neighborhood Stabilization program does not confer the power to “take” any property – only to use federal money to buy it, rehab it, and help a new owner buy it. 

Some residents of the Ruskin neighborhoods said they had concerns about the program, including one homeowner who worried his house was on what he called “Jerry’s hit list” (it isn’t). One woman said she was worried that some elderly people don’t have the money to bring their houses up to code. But no one wanted to go on record as being opposed to the program. 

Mitchell said Ruskin isn’t “targeting” minor problems or people who truly can’t afford to fix code violations, but only major nuisance properties. He acknowledged that often, what constitutes a “nuisance” is in the eye of the beholder. What he and other Ruskin residents are most concerned about, he said, are health and safety issues. 

He said banks and mortgage company officials usually don’t ever see the properties they foreclose on, and getting them to maintain a foreclosed house can be a nightmare. 

He’s not the only person who thinks so. 

“Every foreclosed house negatively impacts the property values of everyone else in the neighborhood,” said Mark Stahslworth, president and CEO of Neighborhood Housing Services of Kansas City, a not-for-profit organization that specializes in rehabbing old houses. NHS is one of several not-for-profits, including Habitat for Humanity and Swope Homebuilders, using the Neighborhood Stabilization funds to revitalize Kansas City neighborhoods.
Once the homes are fixed up, they’ll be sold by the not-for-profits as owner-occupied homes – not as investment properties for what Mitchell called “Section 8 landlords” or as rental properties. 

Mitchell said owner-occupied homes are simply better for the neighborhood than rental properties. He said he has nothing against renters, and that there are plenty of stable, attractive rental properties in the Ruskin area with renters who are “good people.” That being said, Mitchell said he believes many renters don’t have the same vested interest in keeping their neighborhoods nice as homeowners do. He said they’re often the victims of greedy landlords, and pay far more in monthly rent than they would on a house payment. 

The Neighborhood Stabilization program has a number of incentives to help get people into their own home. The program even pays 20 percent of the sale price for the buyer, including down payment and closing costs. 

Stahlsworth urged potential buyers to seriously consider the program. 

“Some folks making $60,000 a year, say, are doing well, and they’re not going to qualify for most assistance programs,” Stahlsworth said. “But if you make that kind of money and have five kids, you’re certainly not rich. This is a program where you can get a great starter home, without down payment or closing costs, and you only have to finance 80 percent of it,” he said. “Quite frankly, this is a once-in-a-generation, maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” 

To qualify for the program, Stahlsworth said, buyers need to earn between 80 and 120 percent of the median income for their area. Full information about the program is available several places online, including (see inset) 

No one really “profits” from the sale of these homes, Stahlsworth said. The money goes back into the program to purchase and rehab more homes. This round of federal money must be spent by September of this year, and Stahlsworth said they’ll have no problem spending it. What “profit” there is goes back into the program, and that money can be spent after the deadline. But the funds are supposed to be paid back to the federal government, without interest, in 2013. 

Back in the Ruskin neighborhoods, the homes associations have filed suit so far on houses that range from those with un-mowed grass to those that are literally falling apart. During Mitchell’s morning drive through the neighborhood, he pointed out houses with broken windows, sagging or broken gutters, peeling paint, holey roofs and rotting wood. 

Mitchell even got out of his truck a few times and pointed out houses with no interior walls, exposed electrical wiring, significant water and mold damage, back yards strewn with filth and debris, and gaping holes in walls and rooftops. Dead bugs and animal feces were common sights through the windows of some properties. Most have gas lines to the house turned off, are missing outdoor air conditioning units, and have been completely stripped of copper wiring by thieves. 

“This is just awful,” Mitchell said, shaking his head sadly as he gazed at a hard-hit home on Longview Road. 

But his spirits improved as he drove down Palmer Street. There, a yard sign emblazoned with the Neighborhood Stabilization logo proclaimed that a little, green, ranch-style home was being rehabbed as part of the federal program. A contractor who was doing concrete work on the side of the house smiled and waved at Mitchell as he drove by. 

“That’s the first house in Ruskin that has gone through this program,” Mitchell said, continuing his drive through the neighborhood. “It’s not a process that happens overnight. But doesn’t that look nice?”

Traffic to Shift to New 150 Pavement Beginning June 4

Traffic on Route 150 just east of Route 71 will shift to the new pavement between White Avenue and just east of Lumpkins Fork Creek bridge beginning 9 a.m. Friday, June 4.
The configuration will remain head to head, one lane in each direction for several months to allow for continued construction of the new mainlines and intersections. When completed, the new Route 150 will be two lanes in each direction divided by a median.

Work continues on the new Route 150 from Lumpkins Fork Creek to just west of Route 291.