Kara Clark knows the effect vacant buildings can have on a business.
Clark is the owner of Bailey’s Treasures in the 400 block of North Market Street. She said long-term vacant buildings in blocks leading up to her own can keep shoppers from wandering up from the businesses around Frederick’s Square Corner.
“It stops the foot traffic a lot,” Clark said. When people start to see vacant storefronts, they don’t think that the other shops are there, she said.
Owners of commercial buildings in the city that stay vacant for more than a year will now have to register the properties and could face fees and increased taxes the longer the buildings remain unoccupied under an ordinance passed unanimously Thursday night by the city’s aldermen.
The ordinance defines a vacant property as a commercial or mixed-use building that has been completely vacant for more than a year, or one in the city’s downtown or mixed use-zones where half of the first-floor area that’s visible from the street is vacant for more than a year.
The city will determine whether a building is vacant by city water bill records, and vacant buildings will be required to register online each year after one year of vacancy.
The city’s finance department will monitor properties that have $0 water bills, said Marc DeOcampo, the city’s chief administrative officer.
The second year that a building is vacant will require a registration with no fee, the third year will include a fee and an inspection, and the fourth and subsequent years will require a registration, fee and special taxation.
While the move drew praise from businesses, people need to have realistic expectations, and nothing will change overnight, Alderwoman Kelly Russell said.
Buildings that are vacant for more than two years will be inspected each year with a code that will be developed by the city’s director of public works.
The city will have to hire up to three additional inspectors before the end of the third year to perform the inspections that are needed, DeOcampo said.
Peter Brehm, who lives in the city’s Neighborhood Advisory Council 9, told the aldermen he supports the ordinance, but he wishes it was more aggressive with its timelines and fees.
Still, he said, it’s a good start.