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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Proposed Richfield ordinance targets vacant buildings

Please click onto the COMMENTS for the story.


Anonymous Finance and Commerce said...

Posted: 1:31 pm Tue, March 22, 2011

Critics say it goes too far and doesn’t address issue of blight

Richfield is looking at a proposed ordinance that aims to help city staff cope with a nagging and costly problem: keeping tabs on long-vacant homes and commercial buildings.

The ordinance, scheduled to go before the City Council on Tuesday night, would require the owner of a building that has been empty for more than 90 days to pay a yet-to-be-determined “registration fee.”

The main idea is to make sure the buildings are kept in good condition for the sake of neighbors, and to inform the property owner if something has gone wrong with the building, said John Stark, Richfield’s community development director.

But critics say that it goes too far and that it would be one of the most aggressive ordinances of its kind in the state.

“The goal sounds reasonable, but this is so broad,” said Aaron Dickinson, a local Edina Realty broker and real estate blogger. “It will affect a lot of people that probably were not intended” to be affected.

Other metro area cities have similar vacant building ordinances.

A Minneapolis ordinance allows the city to recoup fees related to monitoring vacant buildings. As reported by Finance & Commerce, the ordinance was expanded last year to include stalled development projects - with or without buildings on them.

Golden Valley has a residential property maintenance ordinance, but the city does not specifically go after vacant buildings, said City Manager Tom Burt.

Properties are investigated after complaints surface, and a city inspector goes through town to make sure minimum property maintenance standards are being met.

“If there is blight, we aggressively go after it,” Burt said.

Although Richfield has its share of long-vacant commercial buildings - including a Kmart, the Lyndale Garden Center and Bridgeman’s, all of which are near 66th Street and Lyndale Avenue - the city’s ordinance mainly would affect homes, Stark said.

The city has an estimated 200 to 250 vacant properties, most of them homes. Some are going through the normal process of being resold and have not been empty for long, Stark noted.

“I can count on one hand, probably, how many large, vacant commercial buildings we have that are of concern,” he said.

6:44 AM  
Anonymous story continued said...

Stark does not have a dollar amount for how much the city spends to monitor vacant buildings, but a single property can take 40 to 50 hours of staff and attorney time in a year. “Those hours obviously add up,” he said.

City officials will determine how much the fee should be at a later date if they decide to move forward with the ordinance, he said. In any case, fees would be on a sliding scale, with larger properties paying more.

A March 22 staff report details the city’s concerns about empty buildings.

According to the report, vacant buildings are “a blight to the community” and they “often become dumping grounds for junk, debris and other materials, some of which may be hazardous or detrimental to the environment.”

The proposed ordinance says that vacant buildings “may attract transients, homeless people, trespassers and criminals, including drug users,” and that neglected vacant buildings create “a risk of fire, explosion or flooding.”

The ordinance would require the building owner to register the building within 90 days after it becomes vacant.

The registration would include owner contact information, the status of utilities, and a “timetable for returning the building to appropriate occupancy or use and for correcting code violations and nuisances, or for demolition.”

With foreclosures on the rise in recent years, more cities are looking at this type of tool, said Jeannette Bach, a research manager with the League of Minnesota Cities.

“It is something proactive cities can do to hopefully prevent some of those problems from becoming nuisances, or having actual property damage, where … you would end up with heat being turned off and pipes burst and you don’t find out until the ice is starting to come out the front door,” Bach said.

But Dickinson, the Edina Realty broker, thinks the ordinance is overly broad.

Just because a property is vacant, it’s not necessarily neglected, Dickinson noted, adding that if the goal is to help the city cover the costs of monitoring problem properties, the city should focus on blight, not vacancy.

“Many vacant properties are well-maintained; commercial properties in particular,” he said. “Commercial buildings may have been vacant for six, 12, 18, 24 months. That does not mean commercial property owners are shirking their duties.”

Stark said the ordinance is not meant to punish building owners.

“Part of the reason to do this is to protect the property owners as well so we know to have extra police eyes on a property, make sure they understand it’s vacant,” he said. “This is as much to protect the property owner as to protect the community.”

6:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But critics say that it goes too far and that it would be one of the most aggressive ordinances of its kind in the state.

BULLSHIT! Saint Paul holds the stupidity award for aggressive housing codes, and nobody is dumb enough to top that.

6:47 AM  

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