Eight months after a committee recommended ways to address blighted properties and code violations in Frederick, a new group is taking over.
The Property Revitalization Ad Hoc Committee is made up of nine business, community and government representatives who Mayor Randy McClement appointed.
Nikki Bamonti, the mayor’s executive assistant, said nearly all of the members are in place. She is working on scheduling the group’s first meeting.
According to the guidelines, the new committee is an advisory body. Its purpose is to “provide an inclusive, long-term focus on the issues of vacant and underutilized properties and those with significant or reoccurring outstanding code violations.”
The efforts include advising the Frederick Board of Aldermen on policy and making recommendations to the mayor on best practices for addressing problem properties. It also suggests strategies for encouraging or requiring reasonable maintenance, reinvestment, and occupancy of underused and vacant properties.
None of the members of the new committee served on either of two previous ad hoc committees. The most recent previous committee, called the Blighted and Vacant Property Ad Hoc Committee, formed in early 2016 and was a revival of a similar group from 2012. Some of the same people served on both of those committees.
The Blighted and Vacant Property Ad Hoc Committee met twice a month from January to June and made recommendations for tackling blight and other code violations. One recommendation was the formation of a more permanent committee to address issues.
McClement did not return a call on Wednesday for comment on the new committee.
New committee details
Members are tasked to address a list of short and long-term objectives over a one-year period, then decide whether to become a standing committee.
The new committee was renamed to get the word “blight” out of the title, Bamonti said, as the group’s mission is about more than addressing blighted properties.
Alderman Josh Bokee, the aldermanic liaison for the new committee, has been vocal about forming a more permanent group to address property problems within the city. He applauded the mayor’s selection of members from different fields for the task.
“One of the best practices that I have seen in terms of what other communities do is that you have an ongoing committee or commission that brings in folks from different fields, as well as residents at large, to maintain a focus on the issue of blight and redevelopment,” he said.
Bokee said he supports the committee becoming permanent even if just to have another tool to address problems.
“The board of aldermen have a responsibility to evaluate the effectiveness to how things are going forward,” he said. “The purpose of this committee is to bring people together from different fields, to help maintain that focus. That goes outside politics and really helps bring honest assessment of what’s working, what’s not and what we still need to do.”
In addition to the nine committee members, city staff members can attend the meetings upon request. The mayor or a mayoral representative, an aldermanic liaison, and representatives from the city’s planning and economic development departments are slated to have active roles on the committee, as well.
Bamonti said a group of city employees still meets every eight weeks and discusses the former committee’s other recommendations.
Thoughts from former committee members
Truby LaGarde, who serves as a coordinator for Neighborhood Advisory Council 11, served on both of the former committees. She said Wednesday she hopes the new committee will finally be able to get some things done. However, she has her doubts.
“I think most people are looking forward to something that may give us more teeth, but on the other hand, how many committees do we need?” She said. “That’s my take on it.”
LaGarde said several months ago that her service with the blight committees was done, as she did not see much progress from the recommendations that were made. She said Wednesday she believes she can be more productive as a NAC coordinator.
Kathryn McKenzie, another member of the last two committees, had similar thoughts. She commended the mayor for forming the new committee and hopes it can get more done, but said she is done with trying to work with the city to address the problems.
“I think you’ll find that most of us on the task force, the first time and the second time, really have just stepped back, thrown our hands up and said, ‘What is the point?’”she said. “It’s been a year. We came up with 18 recommendations. Nobody was kept informed. Before, with the mayor and aldermen, the ball really dropped.”
LaGarde and McKenzie said they were not asked to serve on the new committee.
McKenzie questioned why there have not been any updates to the city’s blighted property and property watch list in recent months, as she is sure code violations still exist throughout the city.
The list, created in June 2014, identifies properties considered “blighted” and shows updates as problems are addressed. The list dwindled from 30 properties to nine by December. Since then, most violations have been addressed.
One task of the new committee is to identify any properties that could be added to the list.