What’s the difference between blight and vacancy? Where do they intersect? And what about the other terms — uninhabitable, habitually vacant, condemned — how do they fit in when it comes to the city of Frederick?
Members of the newly reinstated Blighted and Vacant Property Ad Hoc Committee wrestled with these questions on Monday as they mapped out a plan for their mission. The discussion marked the first meeting in nearly three years after the committee disbanded in December 2012 after issuing two sets of recommendations to help the city handle blighted and vacant commercial and residential properties.
Although the Monday meeting served largely as a preliminary review rather than an in-depth discussion, members wasted no time delving into the complexities of the issues involved.
Steve Cranford, an original committee member representing the commercial real estate sector, advocated for the committee to home in on blighted properties exclusively and leave issues of vacancies to economic development groups.
“[If] we start down that path, we’re going to end up with vacant registration issues and all kinds of other stuff,” he warned. “I think our task is addressing blight and how to manage that.”
Alderman Michael O’Connor echoed the need to differentiate the two, although he said both should be addressed in the group’s work. Clarifying those definitions and resolving conflicting interpretations presented by the city receivership ordinance, the courts and the public would be key to their work, members agreed.
Clarity also came into play regarding the group’s defined metrics for success.
Kara Norman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership and committee representative for community organizations, said that residents may expect the group to ensure that buildings become renovated and occupied. But that may be beyond the scope of what the committee can achieve, she added.
“You can’t force someone to put someone in a property,” agreed Kathryn McKenzie, a committee representative for the residential real estate group. “But if you make it look nicer, then the appeal is going to be there, and someone will take the space.”
As tasked by Mayor Randy McClement, the committee will look at how the city implemented past recommendations as well as propose new ones. The 10-goal mission will be completed in a three-phase timeline over the next six to eight months.
The goals proposed by McClement are as follows:
- Review items implemented from the original recommendations.
- Analyze original recommendations that were not implemented.
- Define “habitually vacant” properties.
- Develop a strategy to address habitually vacant properties.
- Review the fiscal and legal impact of implementing a strategy for vacant properties.
- Develop a process to budget for demolition, repair and resale of properties.
- Determine measures of success for addressing blighted and commercial properties.
- Present new recommendations, ideas and programs.
- Review proposal for a Blighted and Vacant Property Review Board.
- Review condemnation definition.
The work will be divided into three phases, each allotted approximately two months of review, as follows:
- Phase 1: Review of original recommendations, definitions, impact, processes, etc. (January through March).
- Phase 2: Analyze prior recommendations and propose new ones for commercial properties (April and May).
- Phase 3: Analyze prior recommendations and propose new ones for residential properties (June through August).
The work will culminate in a final report presented to the mayor and Board of Aldermen at a public hearing.