Asiana Blight

Asiana Blight

A person walks by the long-vacant former Asiana restaurant on North Market Street.

After years of debate regarding vacant properties in Frederick, one alderman has taken a step toward establishing a vacant property registry.

Alderman Ben MacShane introduced legislation Monday that would require property owners to register their vacant properties on a yearly basis with the city of Frederick, make them subject to annual inspections and establish a registration fee that would increase each year the property is vacant.

Mayor Michael O’Connor said that this is a step toward a long-term solution, though, and in order to see it through, they have to first address a receivership ordinance that could allow the city to have a third party manage a property.

Under the proposed ordinance, property owners would be required to register any vacant property with the city on a yearly basis. The registration fee would then rise each year the property is vacant. In addition to requiring registration each year, the property would also be subject to annual inspections.

“This is something that will address a problem that the city has been facing for a generation and that many of our residents, including myself, really demand more action on,” MacShane said.

MacShane’s bill, he says, addresses a long-standing issue facing Frederick.

As of mid-May, 159 properties were listed as vacant for the past year, 45 were vacant for the previous two years, 35 for for last three years, 16 for four years and eight were listed as vacant for five or more years in the city.

Still, as O’Connor pointed out Tuesday, MacShane’s proposed ordinance might have a way to go before ultimately being voted on due to the issue of receivership in the city.

In several instances, Frederick has petitioned the county’s District Court to appoint a third-party receiver aimed at managing a vacant or derelict property on behalf of an absentee or noncompliant owner. Before MacShane’s proposal would work, O’Connor said the city would have to modify its receivership ordinance. That modification could come as early as a public hearing set for next week, he said.

“We have to figure out how to track potentially vacant properties and define what ‘habitually vacant’ means to the city,” O’Connor explained. “We also have to evaluate the fiscal impact and the cost to the city. Our goal is to create incentives and disincentives to ensure property stock is being used at its best. This ordinance is another tool for how we can deal with the issue.”

Meanwhile, others in the community are still in a wait-and-see mindset while considering the proposed ordinance.

Kara Norman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership, said that while she has been part of recent conversations with the Neighborhood Advisory Council and there appears to be a lot of support for the idea of a vacant property registry, the partnership needs to see more details before formulating an official opinion.

State Sen. Ron Young, a former Frederick mayor, said Tuesday afternoon that the idea to hit absentee or noncompliant property owners in the pocketbook was something he’s been supporting for at least the last couple of years.

“In the past, they would talk about putting a property in receivership or having the government buy it,” Young explained. “Then, you go to court and there’s all these problems. Mine is simply, it’s your property, you got two choices — either fix it up or sell it to somebody who will and if you don’t, we’re going to fine the heck out of you. If you fine somebody enough, they will [take action].

“[MacShane] is following that concept,” he added. “Whether it will be enough, I don’t know.”

According to MacShane, the city, over the last decade, has attempted to address the problem via multiple committees and subcommittees while never quite navigating a way to address the problem properly. His ordinance, he said, is a “synthesis of recommendations from prior groups, subcommittees and best practices learned from cities across the state from Hagerstown to Takoma Park.”

“I’m not trying to penalize property owners acting in good faith,” MacShane added. “At times, your property becomes vacant, a tenant closes or moves out unexpectedly, and I don’t want to levy penalties on people who are just going through the process of finding the next tenant. But there comes a point where a property owner just sits on a property and allows it to deteriorate. That’s why this registry would require an increasing fee.”

Details on the fees and inspections would be up to the mayor and Board of Aldermen as the ordinance passes through a proposed workshop and then a potential formal hearing. MacShane is optimistic that the ordinance can breathe new life into addressing a problem the city of Frederick has had for years.

“I expect very strong support from the public, and therefore a lot of support from my colleagues,” he said. “This is exactly the type of policy that the community has been asking for for years form the city. The city of Frederick is a fantastic place to own properties and it’s an amazing place to make investments, but we also need to ensure the safety and economic resiliency of every neighborhood in the city.”

Follow Colin McGuire on Twitter:

@colinpadraic.

(13) comments

LeonardKeepers

to me people who have vacant buildings ought to be made to pay out one way or another for having vacant property.it is sad that people let their properties set vacant. according to this article thee are far too many buildings setting empty in this city.comments here say it is up to property owner,well to me some how the property owner should be held accountable for the building being vacant.

MrFrederick

If I want to leave my property vacant, how is that the city's business?

tatt2ed

It would depend upon the state of the property, I assume. I do not believe the city can force you to put a business into a retail space. As long as the property is maintained and up to code, think you would be fine. If the building is falling down, totally different set of circumstances.

threecents

It's a red flag for the city to pay attention to.

sevenstones1000

Property rights vary according to who else you affect. If your building is in the middle of nowhere, your decrepit house can fall down around your ears for all I care. If your building is where it affects others, you must be a good neighbor or lose that property.

tatt2ed

7, what if I want the property vacant, tax purposes, whatever, but it is maintained, up to code, just vacant? No argument, just question.

KellyAlzan

I’ll lease space for my nephew to put his office desk. That way, it won’t be “vacant”

Business Owner

Excellent point.

sevenstones1000

Not if the building is not habitable.

ma23464

Define vacant...... that’s going to be the problem

Business Owner

Excellent question.

AnotherFineMess

The dreaded Asiana is about to become a Korean BBQ! There has been a permit application submitted and currently under review by the building department to renovate the space. Gomusin LLC using the 123 N Market (Asiana) as the address. Nothing has been approved yet but it looks like a valid effort! I think it will be called Surah.

Winifred

Good Luck. Various administrations have vowed to change these blighted properties. We will all be dead and gone and Asiana will still be rotting away with no oversight.

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