Last November, after researching alternatives, I proposed that our city council’s Community and Economic Development Committee research and propose a new Vacant Property Ordinance for adoption. Such ordinances are enacted in communities like Ashtabula, Conneaut, Sandusky and Xenia. The proposal for a Vacant Property Ordinance was based on models from similar communities like Troy.
Why do I believe our community needs such an ordinance? Well, in the fall of 2021, the City’s Planning Commission, by a 4-3 vote decided to grant the owner of the building at 112-118 W. Main St. conditional permission to demolish the structure and replace the structure with a grass lot.
The deliberations and discussions regarding this demolition were often contentious and drawn out. Even today, over a year later, our community is no further ahead than we were then in seeing a resolution to this issue.
As I read the materials and learned about the issues involved, there was one question that came to mind that was never asked in these deliberations, “What can our community do to prevent these types of conversations from happening again in the future?”
If no one was going to ask that question and propose a constructive solution, I was willing to take up the cause. In government, our role isn’t just to address problems as they come up, but more importantly, to prevent problems from happening in the future. A Vacant Property Ordinance seemed like a logical step to start the discussion.
As I put forward my draft ordinance, I was never under the illusion that such an ordinance would be adopted letter for letter. The ordinance was meant simply as a starting point for discussion to prevent the abandonment of commercial properties, especially in our downtown area.
What has become clear to our citizens is that property owners are now incentivized to keep buildings vacant. The Planning Commission’s decision on the 112-118 West Main Street building gives a future plan to other owners of vacant properties downtown; keep your property vacant as long as you can, drive up the cost of rehabilitation to a point where it can not be economically feasible to be saved and the administration will support your desire to demolish a building and put in a grass lot.
Such buildings bring down property values and make our downtown less attractive to visitors and our own residents; and even in this particular situation, close down a public sidewalk for years on end.
It came as no surprise that the administration was not in favor of a Vacant Property Ordinance. But what really was surprising is that the administration found this to be an opening to create a rental registration program for residential properties. The administration responded to my request this way:
It is recommended that Troy City Council not adopt the draft Vacant Property Ordinance for Commercial and Industrial Properties as submitted, rather research and propose a Residential Rental Registration Program to more adequately address concerns related to vacant and non-owner occupied structures.
In all honesty, if after all the hours of deliberation by the Planning Commission and the pages of materials submitted on this topic, the best solution our city’s administration can come up with is a Residential Rental Registration Program, this is truly a classic example of hitting the bullseye of the wrong target.
I am not saying there may not be problems with rental properties. But I also know that a rental registration program is going to cause significant burdens to small business owners in our community that are actually providing safe, decent and secure housing for a significant number of residents and any fees assessed by this program will be passed down to hard working citizens that already feel that they are taxed enough already. I would dare say that such a program isn’t going to decrease vacant residential properties, but rather just be a money grab by our city administration from those hard working landlords that are working with their tenants to ensure safe housing.
Worse off, a Residential Rental Registration Program was not going to solve the problem of preventing discussions like our community just had over 112-118 W. Main St. from happening again.
If the city administration didn’t like what I presented that would have been completely appropriate, but I wish that the administration would have taken the opportunity to create and propose an ordinance that would have helped our community proactively deal with the issue we just went through. Rather the administration felt it was more appropriate to simply point out where the proposed ordinance simply fell short. Furthermore, our administration decided to create a whole new program that would have done nothing but cost our taxpayers more of their hard earned money.
In the end, how can we trust our community’s future opportunities to those that continue to ignore today’s challenges? We need proactive leadership that will create community-based solutions for Troy’s present and future! As Mayor, I will work to get a Vacant Property Ordinance on the books that will cover Troy’s commercial and industrial properties.