04/25/04 — Krafts want to improve alley

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Krafts want to improve alley

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on April 25, 2004 2:07 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Rick and Debbie Kraft say they don't understand why the town board doesn't want an alley improved next to their building downtown.

The Mount Olive town board is expected to vote at its next meeting at 7 p.m. on May 3 to rescind an action taken earlier this month allowing Kraft to close the alley to vehicles on the east side of his building on James Street.

Town Attorney Carroll Turner discovered a 1926 plat in which Ben Southerland dedicated the alley to the town of Mount Olive as a public right-of-way.

"We're not taking the attorney's word this is a valid instrument that voids our claims to be able to develop the property," said Kraft. But if it turns out they don't own it, the Krafts say they're hoping the town of Mount Olive will pick up where they left off and develop it.

"If we can't do the project and the town does it, we can sit back and enjoy it with the rest of the town," said Mrs. Kraft. "Rick and I are not troublemakers."

But somebody is going to have to assume the responsibility of making the alley less libelous, said Kraft. He and his wife say they can feel the building shake when a truck hits the wall trying to turn into the narrow alley. They have put a fresh coat of blue paint over several gouge marks patched with mortar.

When tenants in the back of their building complained about the condition of the alley, flies and vermin, and moved out, the Krafts moved in. The deed to the Krafts' property says the alley is theirs. For 27 years, they have been paying property tax on the alley.

But vehicles, large and small, still try to come through. "We're worried about the liability," said Kraft. "Who are you going to sue?... This building is very old. It's on the Historic Registry. Some cracks go all the way through the building."

He said they're concerned about the structural integrity of the building, but they've also seen an increase in pedestrian traffic, and they're worried someone may get hurt. A dance studio is on one side of Kraft's photo studio, and his wife's dog grooming business is on the other side.

Mrs. Kraft said she opened her grooming shop thinking the alley would be improved. If she had known about this, she says she would have taken her business elsewhere. She said she came to work at 6:30 a.m. one day and saw a man urinating in the alley.

Kraft said he has seen signs of illegal activity in the alley like hypodermic needles. He's also seen empty liquor bottles and condoms there.

On the other side of the alley is an abandoned theater, which has a falling-in roof, the old Simmons Hardware building, which is now a burned out shell, and Oliver's Railroad Grille.

Kraft said he saw someone come out the back door to the restaurant kitchen one day and walk almost into the path of a car that was whisking through the alley.

"They drive through, and they don't slow down," said Mrs. Kraft.

Kraft said they both have seen some near misses of cars coming out of the alley and almost hitting children darting across the alley. He said he thinks it's easily 200 people a day who come through the area.

"This wall looks like it would stand forever, but you could hit it just right with a pickup truck, and it would take the wall down," he said. "This is a 1920s building, and no building can take constant hits and jolts without having structural damage."

Kraft said he knows of other alley and drive ways in town that have been closed and or re-routed over the course of years. What's good for one should be good for all, said Mrs. Kraft.