Will Portsmouth Fine Itself? – Council Wants Fine for Owners of Vacant Property
Will the City of Portsmouth issue a fine to itself? The City Manager’s Office has drafted a proposed ordinance that imposes a fine on the owners of any property that sits vacant for over 90 days.
The fine for residential properties is $1500. For commercial buildings, it’s $3000. The proposed legislation would make an exception if the property is undergoing renovations. The fine is not connected to the condition of the building. Even if a storefront or home is well-maintained, the owner would face a fine if it is not occupied. It’s also not connected to taxes. Even if your property taxes are current and the structure and property are in pristine condition, there could still be a fine.
Martell Says Law Is Simple
Fifth Ward Council representative Edwin Martell sponsored the legislation. He said the law is pretty straightforward. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know you don’t have a building permit. You don’t have any construction going on. If it’s been empty for three months, you’re getting a ticket.”
It only takes a glance around the city and county to see that vacant houses and commercial buildings are a big problem. Currently, owners only face fines if they fail to maintain the property or don’t pay their taxes.
The current draft of the legislation also doesn’t spell out if homeowners face fines if they aren’t able to sell a property within 90 days after they move out. There are also many commercial properties that are partially rented to businesses. Will they face fines for vacant spaces? If they are 75% full, do they pay 25% of the fine?
Will The City Face Fines?
5th Ward Council candidate, local realtor Joey Sandlin agrees there’s a problem. He just doesn’t think this is the way to fix it.
“When you have an economy that is so bad that a large percentage of your properties both residential and commercial are vacant, the last thing you should do is punish the owners of these properties who are still vested in your city.”
In fact, Sandlin pointed out, the City could end up as the biggest offender. “If this fine passes, one of the largest offender of this new ordinance will be the City of Portsmouth itself. The City currently owns vacant buildings like the Marting’s building and all the condemned homes in the city waiting to be razed by the Scioto County Land Bank.”
Marting’s Building Sits Vacant For Years
He says the Portsmouth City government should understand better than anyone how difficult it can be to deal with vacant property. “Instead of looking at the property owners as being irresponsible and needing “enticed” with a fine to do something with their decaying buildings, the council should ask themselves why they haven’t done anything with the vacant buildings they own. The City of Portsmouth has multiple buildings that are vacant eyesores. Is the City just sitting on these properties because they are unmotivated to do better?
The Marting’s building on Chillicothe St. the water treatment plant building on Charles St. and many others are vacant ugly and decaying. Why? Because the City does not have the tax base or budget to do anything with them. This is all the result of a broken poor economy.”
Waterfront Revival A Better Answer?
Sandlin said many property owners simply don’t have the money to improve the properties to make them attractive to new tenants. He believes a better approach is to concentrate on stimulating the economy and redeveloping the city’s image, starting with the waterfront.
Portsmouth already has laws regarding the condition of buildings both vacant and occupied. Sandlin says the real issue is they are not being enforced. He questions whether the city is capable of enforcing these new rules. He also worries many property owners will simply abandon the properties instead of seeking new tenants or owners.
His solution? The Portsmouth City Council Candidate says, “Like the City of Newport Kentucky did several years ago we need a bold new vision to develop our riverfront and downtown area into a destination location. This is how you fix the Vacant building problem. You build an economy that will create a demand for new businesses to fill and refurbish these old vacant properties. You cannot tax your way out of a poor economy, you have to grow the local economy and the vacancy problems will go away themselves.”
Council members will meet on Monday to discuss the proposal further.
The People Speak
After the initial publication of this article, members of the community began to add their voices.
Eric Ferrell says, “Is that even legal? It’s not their biz if I have a place that’s sitting empty. As long as it’s kept up.”
Angi Jurado added, “What about the “Snow Birds” who go south for the winter? If you keep taking people’s rights away, they will leave here full time. There will be fewer people to pay taxes. This proposal makes no sense.”
Jack Vetter, “This proposal is absurd.”
Jimmy Pinson suggested, “Bring in industry so business can build up”
A subscriber who asked to remain anonymous asked, “Will the fines add up each month? If so, that would be a lien on the property. If a person wanted to purchase and reopen a new business they would also be paying these fines. So, for example, if the Royal sits empty for a year and someone wants to reopen, it would cost them an additional $36,000. That’s about what it would cost to get it back to code and purchase stock. That increase in cost may actually cause potential new businesses to walk away from the table.”
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