ELLERBE — House by house and street by street, Ellerbe is working to make itself more attractive to residents and visitors, with the hope that prospective businesses might eventually like what they see, too.
Efforts have ranged from litter pickups to code enfocement.
— Last month, town commissioners and residents clad in safety vests and armed with trash bags staged a cleanup effort before Mayfest and the inaugural Ellerbe Strawberry Festival drew visitors to downtown.
The group — comprising Commissioners Elsie Freeman, Fred Cloninger and Jeremy McKenzie, and more than a dozen members of Freeman’s church — worked with the state Department of Transportation’s “Clean Sweep” program to spruce up the town.
Mayfest was a smaller, more neighborly affair, but the strawberry fest spurred businesses to display strawberry-themed flags, signs and merchandise. And, it drew an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 visitors, said Cooperative Extension Director Susan Kelly, an event organizer: “They came and went all day in a steady stream.”
— Using a state grant awarded in 2017, the town spent months earlier this year renovating the once-defunct rest stop on U.S. 220 north of town, then tallied more than 500 visitors in the first few weeks after its reopening Easter weekend, Mayor Lee Berry told commissioners at their May meeting.
State Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, whom Berry credited for securing the state grant, said last week that the tally likely would guarantee the rest stop will stay open and continue to draw state financing.
(Eyeballing the inaugural strawberry festival, McInnis also said, “This is what you call economic development,” a quote Kelly later called “golden.”)
— Also at the May commission meeting, Berry said he soon would interview a candidate for a part-time job scouting the streets and disposing of errant trash.
— But the biggest investment likely occurred back in the fall of 2016, when the town contracted with N-Focus Planning & Design of Kannapolis to enforce city codes against overgrown lawns and dilapidated structures. Ellerbe, like many smaller towns in North Carolina, does not have its own code-enforcement officer and depends on a contractor.
That man now is Bill Bailey, who succeeds another officer and has worked in Ellerbe since February. Ellerbe is one of seven towns Bailey covers, driving three hours one way, one day a week, to police it.
“There had been a lack of enforcement, … so we’re slowly chipping away at stuff,” Bailey said. Weedy lots and partly burned houses are on his list of citations, as are businesses that store materials in a potentially hazardous manner.
Usually, it costs around $1,500 to tear down an eyesore structure if the owner won’t do it, Bailey said. But Ellerbe has been lucky because it hasn’t yet had to pay for asbestos abatement in any of the demolishable structures.
It isn’t in the flooring or insulating pipes, he said, and “there’s a lot of tin roofs around here” instead of aged shingles.
“I would count that as lucky,” he said, estimating that three homes had been torn down during his predecessor’s watch and two during his.
Many people he contacts say, “‘Oh, I didn’t realize that’ (but) some of them get belligerent,” Bailey said. “I haven’t gone the citation route here, but I’m close.”
Bailey said “the board has been pretty happy” with the pace of cleanup.
Not all of his remaining “26 or 27” active cases are tear-downs of dilapidated buildings, he said — some structures just need repairs; others have been burned or broken into and must be made safe and whole again.
And some lots just need mowing, a task that goes to a man the city employs.
“We keep him pretty busy this time of year,” Bailey said.
“One of the things I notice overall is, once these things occur,” they start a ripple effect, Bailey said.
If one owner paints or initiates repairs, “then other people will start taking pride.”
Freeman said she didn’t know whether it was the result of the town’s efforts, but she had seen a couple of downtown businesses “brighten up their buildings” with new paint during the past few months.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]