SIDNEY — The city of Sidney’s vacant property registration program was established Monday evening by Sidney City Council adopting an amended ordinance that defines the criteria of the program intended to deal with abandoned and vacant properties around town.
Vacant Property Inspector Kyle Havenar said city staff has worked to establish a vacant property registration program for the last several years and that council first began discussing the need for such a program in October 2017.
Staff presented council with the first draft of the registration ordinance for discussion on June 11, and for consideration of adoption on June 25. The ordinance was revised several times and tabled twice before Monday’s meeting.
On Monday, City Council voted to first pass the amended ordinance as was agreed upon during Monday’s council meeting and then passed the amended ordinance.
After much discussion of going line by line through Vice Mayor Mardie Milligan’s submitted questions and comments of areas she felt needed clarified or revised, Havenar gave staff’s response, which in many cases previous language needed clarity, but in other instances drew further explanation or discussion.
Some notable issues discussed include:
• Definition of a vacant building: 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 for a period of time over 90 days and one or more of the following:
(1) Unoccupied and unsecured; or
(2) Unoccupied and secured by other than normal means; or
(3) Unoccupied and an unsafe building as determined by the building inspector or fire inspector; or
(4) Unoccupied and having utilities disconnected; or
(5) Unoccupied and has property maintenance or building code violations; or
(6) Illegally occupied, which shall include loitering and vagrancy; or
(7) Unoccupied and has one or more broken or boarded windows; or
(8) Unoccupied and abandoned; or
(9) Unoccupied and used for other than a permitted use of zoning district in which it is located, unless owner provides documentation of legal non-conforming use.
• Definition of an abandoned building: A building which is unoccupied and (1) Holds a mortgage status of abandonment (deceased or foreclosed); or (2) Has taxes in arrears for a period of time exceeding 365 days.
• Property owners are required to register the property 90 after it becomes unoccupied. Havenar said after a property meets the definition of a vacant building a notice will be sent out that the owner will have 30 days to register.
• The act of tagging or graffiti are the property owner’s responsibility and are required to get rid of graffiti upon a city notice being sent out.
• The frequencies of residential and commercial properties’ inspections were separated out as the guidelines for each are different.
• Concerns with the development plan. Havenar noted the plan is intended to be an incentive to renovate and occupy the building. By submitting a development plan and following the development timeline, the registration fees paid in will be refunded.
• Government owned properties will be exempt from registering with the program. This point was split among council. Milligan and Council member Darryl Thurber felt government properties should be held to the same standard as other property owners. Other council members felt it would be an unnecessary step to move fees around from one fund to another. Barhorst said he didn’t know how to force the federal or state, and possibly county, government to pay any fees. City Manager Mark Cundiff also noted that many properties, such as the public swimming pool and concession stands, would then be required to register and will create a lot of extra work. Council resolved to make government owned property exempt.
• The penalty for violating the provisions laid out fill be fines is no more than $500 for each offense. A separate offense shall be deemed committed each day during or on which a violation occurs or continues.
Mayor Mike Barhorst asked if a buyer purchases an abandoned building that obviously needs work, what will happen under the registration program. Havenar said he would recommend the new owner submit a development plan, which is not required but if approved is an incentive in which registration fees paid will be refunded after the renovation and plan to reoccupy the building is carried out.
Council member Janet Born asked if Havenar would inform property owners of what permits are required and how much they cost. Community Development Director Barbara Dulworth said the program will not require any permits, but people will not be approved for any type of building permits, for example, unless the property is in compliance. She told Barhorst, for properties that need to acquire permits, once the property owner has registered with the vacant property program they will be in compliance and could then be granted various permits to work on the property.
Council plans to review the current plan in six months to see if any changes are needed.
In other business, council agreed to wait for information from upcoming meetings with consultants and community survey data to determine whether to put the income tax levy as one or two ballot issues for street repairs and a third fire station.
Council also decided to continue with the feral cat trap neuter release (TNR) clinics. Shelby County Dog Warden Kelli Ward said although she is no longer willing to personally devote her weekends conducting the clinics, she has volunteers lined up to continue the weekend work and will still participate on Mondays and facilitate other work as with coordinating with Columbus Veterinarian Lauren Miller.
Ward said she believes it’s a great option for dealing with the feral cat issue. She said unhappy people who cannot bring unwanted cats to the animal shelter, are usually are less upset when she recommends placing cages to capture and neuter feral cats in the area.
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