by Michael Bielawski
MONTPELIER – City Council is considering stronger penalties for property owners who neglect falling-apart buildings which could cause safety hazards and/or bring down property values. The ordinance was first reviewed April 26, and it will be on their agenda again next week.
A former restaurant on Northfield Street — the former Brown Derby Supper Club adjacent to the Econo Lodge — has been one apparent target that this bill may be intended for. By the time of this hearing, City Manager Bill Fraser indicated that the property owners had at least taken initial steps to address safety concerns.
“Even since our last conversation they’ve made more improvements, boarded up windows and things,” said Fraser. “There’s really no way we can consider this an unsafe building.”
He still acknowledged that the old structure is nonetheless unsightly.
Director of Planning and Community Development Michael Miller warned that time and resources for the city are spread thin as it is, so undertaking lengthy conflicts with property owners may not be in the city’s best interest. He added that existing building safety codes could accomplish what this ordinance is going for.
“We have ordinances in place that can secure those buildings, and make them safe,” said Miller. “So, the intent of this ordinance, if it comes back that demolition isn’t an option for a public nuisance, then we would certainly want you to reconsider if you really want to move forward.”
Regarding the ordinance itself, there was some debate over what the implications would be. If its implementation would simply result in some daily fines around $100 per day, or if it could amount to the city ordering a property owner to completely take down a structure.
Mayor John Hollar said he would like to at least have the demolition option on the table.
“My concern is that this could lead to just ‘the owner doesn’t pay, then we have to go to court, then we have to get a lien, then we have to go through some additional proceeding before we have to enforce that lien,’” said Hollar. “I mean this could last years.”
Hollar stressed that he’s not suggesting that an order to take down a building should be the first step.
“The plan in mediation is to fix the property so that it’s inhabitable and it’s not in a state of dilapidation. But if an owner refuses that then it seems to me that ought to be one of the remedies that’s available to the city if it is a property that is in a significant state of disrepair.”
Although this was a public hearing, there were only a few people in the audience at this point later in the evening, and no one commented. This topic will come up again on the agenda when the council meets again next week.