By Peter H. Milliken
A man living in the last occupied home in the 90 acres the city proposes to decommission and return to its natural state said he plans to stay in his house for the rest of his life.
James Hushower, 60, has lived in his two-bedroom house all his life, except for his early childhood in the house next door, which burned down when he was 8 years old, and five years of his adult life, during which he lived elsewhere on the city’s East Side.
“I just plan on being here until I die,” Hushower said. “I grew up here. I’m used to the place,” said Hushower, who graduated from North High School. “It’s nice and quiet,” he said of the area around his home.
Hushower’s warm and cozy 1960-vintage house was left to him by his brother, Charles, who died late last year.
The Hushower residence became the last occupied home in the 90 acres when a neighbor moved out of a dilapidated house last month.
Hushower’s single-story, 988-square-foot home stands on a tiny 25-by-115-foot lot, which amounts to 0.066 of an acre. But Hushower mows the grass on the vacant lots surrounding his house.
Everything about the house, including its value, is modest. Between 2005 and 2011 — the period that included the housing meltdown and Great Recession — its value plummeted from $21,200 to $12,860, according to county auditor’s office records.
Unless consulting a map, a visitor to Hushower’s abode would not realize it lies within the city limits because the heavily wooded deer and wild turkey habitat around him makes the area seem rural.
Hushower, who was laid off last May 31 in the shutdown of the Macedonia aluminum anodizing plant that employed him for 15 years, said he probably would refuse any relocation money the city might offer him.
“I actually have nowhere else to go, even if I wanted to” move elsewhere, he said.
Located in the city’s Sharonline area, beyond the reach of a city sewer, the house uses a septic system.
The house is oil-heated and uses well water, so Hushower’s only infrastructure requirements are electricity, land-line telephone service and a street that gives him access to his home.
As long as those requirements are met, Hushower said he has no problem with the city’s plan for the area.
As the city downsizes in the wake of population losses, it plans to demolish vacant and dilapidated houses, shut off unneeded utilities and close unneeded streets in the 90-acre area, which is west of Jacobs Road. It seeks a state grant for the effort, known as the Eastside Decommission Project.
“I guess it’s better that it is a wetland than it is to be a dilapidated area” with illegal dumping, Arlette Gatewood, a lifelong Sharonline resident, said of the proposed decommissioning area.
Gatewood, a resident of Castalia Avenue, which is east of Jacobs Road, complained, however, that the Sharonline area has been a neglected part of the city for decades. “The city has never made a commitment to upgrade this area,” he said.
A retired United Steelworkers of America staff representative, Gatewood said he would like to see new curbs and storm sewers installed to alleviate flooding in his neighborhood.
Gatewood, 86, recalled the heyday of the Sharonline area as a close-knit community, with most of its residents belonging to one of three neighborhood churches, and numerous retail stores thriving on the main street — Jacobs Road — where a streetcar ran between 1900 and 1939.
The neighborhood began losing residents after World War II, when the population became more mobile and many residents moved to other parts of the city or the suburbs, Gatewood said.
The bond that remains among current and former Sharonline residents is reflected in a community reunion that takes place every three years, which includes a picnic in Johnson Park.