The city of Frederick soon may have another way to force progress on the long-vacant, condemned Asiana building.
The Frederick Board of Aldermen on Wednesday reviewed a proposal to expand the scope of its receivership program for blighted properties. Specifically, the amendment submitted by Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak would include owners of condemned properties or those that have not complied with court-ordered repair of property violations.
The receivership program was established through an ordinance approved in 2013. The program gives the city the ability to take the owner of a habitually vacant, unsafe and nuisance property to court. The court can either force the owner to make upgrades, or take the property from the owner and sell it to a qualified owner, with requirements attached to fix up the property in a set time period.
Kuzmechak framed her proposal as a way to extend the receivership option to properties that may not have qualified under the prior definitions.
Kuzemchak did not specify specific properties or owners that would be eligible. The Asiana building at 123 N. Market St. is one example of a host of properties that may qualify.
The property was condemned in 2013, based on the city’s definition for condemned buildings: those without connected utilities, illumination or ventilation, or other indicators that make it unfit for human occupancy. The property is owned by Julia & James Properties LLC, whose principal, Duk Hee Ro, has faced numerous code violations and citations for issues for a host of city properties, including the Asiana building.
The original receivership ordinance defined eligible properties under specific criteria. Those include properties that are fire hazards, have unsecured windows and doors, or attract illegal activity and calls for police service.
The city has not pursued the receivership option for any property since the policy was enacted, according to Brittany Parks, assistant manager of code enforcement.
Other aldermen expressed support for Kuzemchak’s proposal.
Alderman Michael O’Connor noted that the city public works director still has discretion to decide when to petition to receivership. This kind of flexibility is important, he said.
He also said even the threat of possible receivership may be enough to motivate owners to make the necessary repairs to their properties.
“If they knew our ordinance potentially could make them a property we would evaluate for receivership, would that change the approach they take to how they do their redevelopment?” he asked. “It might have the effect of shaking up the paradigm.”
Alderwoman Kelly Russell agreed.
“Bring it,” she said.
The aldermen will vote on the proposed amendment at a future public hearing. As of Wednesday, a specific date for the vote had not been determined.
Doubling down on blight
The aldermen on Wednesday also reviewed a host of other ways to address blight and vacancy issues, as recommended by the Blighted and Vacant Ad Hoc Property Committee.
The 21-recommendation list, presented by Richard Griffin, the city’s economic development director, is the culmination of six months and discussion by the committee.
The review process was the second go-round for the group, which was first convened in 2012 and disbanded after issuing an initial report of recommendations.
The committee was reinstated last fall amid growing public dissatisfaction with the way the city handles blight. The revival of the committee was also prompted by a proposal introduced in October by Alderman Josh Bokee to create a permanent blight committee.
The proposal encompassed everything from marketing and communications to increased enforcement mechanisms for blighted and vacant commercial and residential properties.
The three top priorities, according to the commission report, are:
- Establish an internal, multidiscipline team to develop a customized case-by-case approach to dealing with intractable properties and property owners.
- Appoint a standing blighted and vacant property committee.
- Hire or dedicate a current city employee to serve as a downtown ombudsman. That person would guide downtown property owners through the process of addressing code violations and making other property repairs.
The mayor and aldermen will vote to adopt some or all of these recommendations in a subsequent public hearing. As of Wednesday, Mayor Randy McClement said he needed time to determine which recommendations to prioritize, and did not know when he would be ready to proceed.