Vacant property registration program discussion continues

By Sheryl Roadcap -

SIDNEY — Sidney City Council continued its discussion on the city’s developing vacant property registration program during Monday evening’s meeting.

After further recommended research and in response to several of council’s questions at the workshop session two weeks ago, Vacant Property Inspector Kyle Havenar introduced an ordinance that was an updated version of the vacant property registration program draft presented on June 11.

The program is being developed in an effort to deal with the city’s problem of abandoned and vacant properties around town to minimize neighborhood blight.

Havenar pointed out that for clarity purposes, the terms “building” and “property” were added to be used interchangeably.

He also noted the addition of the defined terms “unoccupied” and “lawful activity.” “Unoccupied” is listed as any property, building or structure, or any part thereof, where no person actually and lawfully resides or where no lawful activity is being operated. And it describes “lawful activity” as the current use of the structure is also that which the structure was built for or intended to be used for and is in compliance with building, zoning, and fire codes.

Several council members felt the definition of a vacant building was vague within the June 11 draft. Monday, Havenar presented council with a series of 12 circumstances that would define a vacant building. The ordinance lists a “vacant building” as a commercial, industrial, or residential detached building; or a semi-detached building, or attached building with ownership separated by a common wall which is:

• Unoccupied and unsecured; or

• Unoccupied and secured by other than normal means; or

• Unoccupied and an unsafe building as determined by the building inspector or fire inspector; or

• Unoccupied and having utilities disconnected; or

• Unoccupied and has property maintenance or building code violations; or

• Illegally occupied, which shall include loitering and vagrancy; or

• Unoccupied for a period of time over 90 days; or

• Unoccupied with a mortgage status of abandonment (i.e. deceased or foreclosed); or

• Has taxes in arrears for a period of time exceeding three hundred and sixty five (365) days; or

• Unoccupied and abandoned by the property owner; or

• Unoccupied and has one (1) or more broken or boarded windows; or

• Used for other than a permitted use of zoning district in which it is located, unless owner provides documentation of legal non-conforming use.

He also confirmed the fact that the vacant property registration will be public record, which was an issue raised during the last discussion.

Westwood Drive resident, Dave Kreischer, expressed concern for property owners gone on extended vacations beyond 90 days needing to register. He was concerned about security with this information becoming public record.

Council discussed the issue at length and several members expressed their shared concern with Kreischer. Council reiterated the intent is not to condemn a house that doesn’t seem to have anybody living there, but rather to prevent homes from becoming dilapidated.

Law Director Jeffrey Amick was directed to revisit the wording and terms and bring back something to try and help “snow birds” who make Sidney their primary residence and possibly avoid needing to register so their absence will not become public record.

Mayor Mike Barhorst moved to add historical buildings and structures that the city hopes to save to the exemption list. There was some debate about it, as Vice Mayor Mardie Milligan noted that there may be residents in the same predicament of intending to fix up a property but finds their financial situation to be a hindrance.

Havenar brought back answers to several other questions also, which based on varying residence, building or business situations, have different answers, such as time limits for exemptions.

Council member Joe Ratermann thanked Havenar for his professional presentation of the questions posed by council, but asked what it means if city staff does not recommend setting a time threshold for properties. Community Development Director Barbara Dulworth clarified that setting a time frame would be arbitrary. She said there is no set number of hours for a business that they could set that would make it labeled as occupied. Also, she noted that it would take policing to enforce, which is would be difficult.

City staff members plans to continue work on the ordinance and it will return for further deliberation at the July 9 meeting.

Council also went into an executive session to consider the purchase of property for public purposes, pending litigation and the employment of a public employee. No action was taken by council after members emerged from the session.

By Sheryl Roadcap

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.