With leaders and subcommittees in place, the city of Frederick’s newly formed Property Revitalization Committee is ready to address the city’s blighted and problem properties once and for all.
The eight-member ad hoc committee, which Mayor Randy McClement appointed, held its inaugural meeting Monday. The committee is the third formed to address vacant and blighted properties within the city. This time, the mission is about more than just blight.
“I don’t think we’re at that place anymore,” Nikki Bamonti, the mayor’s executive assistant, said of the concerted decision officials made to remove the word blight from the committee’s name.
The last committee, called the Blighted and Vacant Property Ad Hoc Committee, formed in January 2016 and met through June. The group was a revival of the first blight committee, which formed in 2012. Both groups were tasked with identifying ways to address blight and vacancy in the city.
The first group came up with a series of recommendations, some of which were implemented and some that fell by the wayside, prompting the creation of the second group. The Property Revitalization Committee is a group of fresh faces with a set of short- and long-term goals.
The short-term goals include identifying metrics for monitoring the progress of the city’s revitalization of underused and vacant properties and working with staff members to determine hurdles to gain compliance with problem properties.
In the long term, they include annually analyzing the city’s progress on properties and recommending properties for the blighted property and property watch lists.
At Monday’s meeting, members tossed around initial ideas for how to address some of the goals.
Committee member Tony Checchia, a commercial real estate broker, suggested taking a more positive approach to addressing property issues than the previous groups did.
“We can spend an awful lot of time focusing on the bad eggs or we can focus on the good eggs by rewarding them,” he said.
Checchia recognized that some property owners need a push to address code violations and agreed with other committee members that city officials might need to take a different approach to dealing with them. He suggested looking into changing the rules so property owners are not permitted to leave properties vacant; he said that’s where many problems exist.
Committee member Noel Manolo, a land-use attorney with Miles & Stockbridge, pointed out the importance of drawing a line between blight and vacancy and said addressing vacancy is an important goal.
He also warned against readdressing ground that the previous committees covered.
“This is a pretty robust list of things these folks came up with,” Manolo said about the last committee’s list of recommendations.
“My fear is sort of reassigning old ground,” he continued. ”Are there some big-ticket properties that have been on the forefront? We don’t want to be a solution chasing a problem that isn’t easy to identify.”
The group also viewed the latest updates to the city’s blighted property and property watch lists. The list started in 2014 with 30 properties.
Since the last update in December, one property at 109 W. South St. was removed. The list is now down to eight.
Bamonti also tasked committee members with looking around their neighborhoods and identifying blighted properties.
“I want everybody to look in their neighborhoods, or around where they work, and find properties that they may see as blighted and bring that to us to go through the process,” Bamonti said of the steps city staff members take to list properties on the blight lists.
The homework will help committee members learn how the city’s code enforcement team works and what it takes for a property to earn the title of “blighted,” which might not be what some people think. It might also help officials identify new problem properties they may have missed, she said.
Also at Monday’s meeting, committee members appointed Checchia as chairman, and Jennifer Grove, a residential real estate broker, as vice chairwoman.
Members were appointed to three subcommittees — metrics and hurdles, beautification, and training and awards — and set a meeting schedule. Meetings are slated for 3 p.m. the first Monday of every month, with the next meeting set for May 1.