Vacant property program OKs property exemption

By Sheryl Roadcap -

SIDNEY — A South Main property owner was granted an exemption from registering with the city’s fairly new vacant property registration program during the May 7 Sidney Vacant Property Board of Review meeting.

Rich Wallace, on behalf of Gary Cavinder, requested an appeal of the city’s determination of a vacant property at 940 S. Main Ave. This would have required the property to be registered in the city’s fairly new instituted program.

Last August, Sidney City Council established the vacant property registration program to deal with abandoned and vacant properties around town to minimize neighborhood blight.

At the August council meeting, Vacant Property Inspector Kyle Havenar defined 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 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.

An abandoned building, Havenar defined as 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. After a property meets the definition of a vacant building, a letter is sent out notifying the owner they have 30 days to register.

Board Chair/Law Director Jeff Amick said Cavinder identified the property is being used for storage. The N-1 non-suburban zoning does not provide storage as a principal or conditional use, Amick said.

Havenar noted the property, therefore, meets the (nine) criteria by being used as a private garage in an N-1 zoned district. He said the property is in a unique location, as it is situated in the Great Miami River flood way and flood plain. He also noted that it is not in disrepair and appears to be pretty well maintained.

Havenar recommended granting an exemption from registering with the program. The recommendation was based upon the property’s unique location and undue hardship to meet the principal or conditional uses of an N-1 district, so long as the property does not change, is maintained and is in good condition.

While explaining their intention to seek an exemption, Wallace provided the board with background information on the history of the property that Cavinder purchased in 1981. He produced several historical photos of what he described as “an iconic Sidney location” over the last almost 100 years. The pictures’ timeline spanned from when the structure was first erected and operated as a gas station after the Big Four Bridge was built up until the present.

Wallace said Cavinder actively uses the property three or four times a week, not only as for storage, but also meets friends there and regularly maintains it. Although the property is used primarily for storage, Wallace said the utilities have never been disconnected and has always remained insured and secured. Property taxes are always paid and never has had a property code violation.

“He just maintained it as a good property owner. We understand the purpose of the (vacant property) ordinance. But we think given its historical background and the fact that it’s really on an isolated island, if you will, certainly an intent behind the vacant property ordinance is to impact the eye sore a particular building can be on a particular neighborhood. So we would point out to you the current nearest residential structure to the north is two-tenths of a mile. To the south … is about a mile away,” Wallace said.

Amick asked Cavinder what he stores in the building. Cavinder said tools and a welder and that he works on his car there. Amick confirmed with Cavinder there were no combustible or chemical materials stored at the location, nor was a repair service performed there.

Amick said although he has no problem granting the exemption, in an N-1 district the current use of the property is not permitted, which Community Development Director Barbara Dulworth confirmed. The vacant property could be granted, he said, but there would still be a zoning code issue with the use of the building. Cavinder said when he bought the property, it was a commercial district, but after the gas station was closed, it was change to an R-1 residential district, and then to an N-1.

Wallace said Cavinder really doesn’t use the property as a commercial structure, and that it is “kind of grandfathered-in, in a way.”

Dulworth said she would do some research to see if the property could be considered a legal non-conforming use. She said she would look at the timing of when it changed from a commercial to a personal use, as it is used today.

The board voted to grant the exemption based upon the property’s unique location and undue hardship to meet the principal or conditional uses of an N-1 district, so long as the property does not change, is maintained and is in good condition.

Amick told Cavinder the vacant property issue was now settled and he trusts that Dulworth will look into helping figure out the zoning code part.

Sidney Fire Department’s new deputy fire chief, Chad Hollinger, joined as a board member, filling retired Deputy Fire Chief Cameron Haller’s seat on the board.

By Sheryl Roadcap

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.