Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before — Frederick’s mayor and aldermen are working on a way to put a dent in downtown’s vacancy issue.

Like many of you, we’re a bit skeptical when it comes to hearing of yet another plan to fix this long-standing problem. Vacant properties have been a thorn in the side of the city for decades, and there have been plenty of attempts to get it under control. Just look at the site of the former Asiana restaurant on Market Street, closed for more than two decades now and often considered the poster child of the problem here. How can any location remain empty for years, people ask, and the city seemingly do nothing to end blight?

The question is a quandary for elected officials. Vacant properties present a real economic challenge, one where an empty storefront or two can have a cascading effect on nearby business. On the other hand, the laws need to consider property rights. Unless a property is a nuisance or a health hazard, there’s not a lot the city can do to force an owner to find a tenant. This conundrum, in essence, has been the reason previous attempts have not produced a lot of results.

The latest attempt comes from Alderman Ben MacShane, who wants to establish a vacant property registry. Under this proposal, property owners would be required to let the city know within 90 days of becoming vacant, pay a $50 registration fee and provide an inspection certificate to show that the location is safe. The fee would increase each year the property remains vacant.

MacShane’s steps come on the heels of Neighborhood Advisory Council 11’s actions this past winter. NAC 11 members compiled a list of buildings in their neighborhood that met the city’s definition of blight. Their list identified 60 structures that ranged from slightly run-down to verging on the need for demolition. Their report was submitted to the city aldermen in May, and that research appears to have helped MacShane in developing this novel approach to nipping blight in the bud.

The city, meanwhile, wants to put some oomph into an existing but never enforced anti-blight code. Passed in 2013 and revised in 2016, the so-called receivership ordinance enables the city to ask a court to put a blighted property under a third-party manager. But without a clear definition of what constituted an “unoccupied” building, the city hit the pause button. Under a revised code, a property may be deemed “habitually vacant” if left continuously unoccupied for at least four years, or by racking up at least two court orders or judgments citing city maintenance or building codes within a two-year time frame. But a vote on this measure has been delayed after Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak raised questions about potential loopholes in these amendments.

In the broadest sense, these ideas before the city should move forward. Adding to the city’s box of tools will only make it more difficult for property owners to let their buildings fall into disrepair. Enforcement will be critical as well.

But these ideas aren’t going to be enough. Building owners that maintain their properties up to local standards and codes can, by law, continue to keep them vacant. That’s where the city government will be limited and, in certain instances, explains at least part of the situation in which Frederick finds itself. It may not be the answer Frederick wants, but it does explain why the vacancy issue isn’t the easy fix many would want.

(10) comments

oldmagpie11

Not a new idea - other cities have maintained registries of their vacant properties for years, generally seen as a good thing. What's so different about Frederick?

MD1756

How about the city buys up the properties and uses public money to establish B&Bs at those properties since there is an apparent lack of places for visitors to stay.

sevenstones1000

THe rest of the us have rights, too. To a thriving downtown without deserted buildings being kept empty only as a middle finger to the rest of us and as a blackmail schemes to demand more money from the city on sale.



Your property rights are like your rights to swing your fist. It ends with my nose.

Burgessdr

Repeat after me.

Vacant is not blighted.

Vacant is not blighted.

Vacant is not blighted.

Vacant is not blighted.

Vacant is not blighted.



Its a simple concept

KellyAlzan

Thought this was the land of the free?

Crusty Frederick Man 64

City owned vacant properties—- free pass ?

User1

As long as the property is kept up to code without deficiencies and taxes are current there is no legal basis to be “on a list” or pay a “registration” fee. Maybe the city should be looking at ways to help the property owners keep their properties occupied and not looking for ways to add new regulations. Need to enforce the old ones first!

Roboticbrady

Certain owners have no desire to keep their properties up to code and are fine with them looking nearly condemned.

gabrielshorn2013

That appears to be the situation with Ms, Ro's big FU to the city with the Asiana building. Two decades? Could that middle finger possibly be any bigger?

Dwasserba

Sometimes property owners just don't want tenants and aren't looking for help. A vacant building in good repair is no trouble to its owner.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, insights and experiences, not personal attacks. Ad hominen criticisms are not allowed. Focus on ideas instead.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
No trolls. Off-topic comments and comments that bait others are not allowed.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
Say it once. No repeat or repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.