David Kasper and I went to Nicaragua in 1983 to shoot our first documentary feature, Destination Nicaragua. What we found there, nearly 30 years ago, reminds me of Chapel Hill's plight with the Chrysler building.
By the time the dictator Anastasio Somoza was run out of Nicaragua in 1979, his family and friends owned most of the country. When it was apparent his regime would fall, he and his cronies looted everything they could, moved to Miami and left behind deserted land and empty buildings. Their intention was to maintain ownership but not allow purposeful uses of these properties.
So Nicaragua passed laws requiring farmland be farmed, houses be lived in and factories be in operation, in order for the owner to retain ownership. If after several years those requirements were not fulfilled, the owners lost all rights to the property and it was used for the betterment of the people living in Nicaragua. Farmland was deeded to cooperatives of people to farm, and buildings were turned into clinics, museums, schools, libraries, government offices and homes. This process does not seem so different from our "eminent domain" laws.
When I look at that empty Chrysler building in the heart of downtown and hear about all of the empty foreclosed homes across the country, I can't help but wonder if we too need to find new strategies to keep our communities vital. At the very least, abandoned buildings should be taxed at a higher rate than occupied and functioning buildings. Abandoned buildings require more police protection. They are fire hazards. They attract predator-related crime. But mostly, they are robbing this community of its potential. We must have policies that penalize the practice of leaving buildings abandoned, whether by banks, corporations or individuals, and encourage appropriate uses that will benefit our communities.
I was pleased to read the article on Amendment 1 in the March 28 issue, and delighted to see the candid photos of so many of my friends and colleagues. They bring happiness to my life and enrich our community. These are passionate and involved citizens, parents, partners and taxpayers who deserve the same rights and benefits that my husband and I enjoy. God bless us every one.
Carver C. Weaver