The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 5, 2013

Vacant building program gets results

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT —  A program aimed at minimizing problems caused by vacant houses and buildings is starting to take root in Conneaut, said Planning/Zoning Manager Deanna Gates.

Nearly three dozen property-owners have already complied with a new program unveiled last fall, Gates said. The program obliges owners of vacant buildings to register the property with the city, provide contact information and indicate whether the structure will be repaired, demolished or left alone.

Council launched the registration program in response to growing maintenance headaches caused by buildings hit by bank foreclosures or abandoned by owners. As an incentive to deal with their buildings, owners are charged a property registration fee that begins at $200 for houses and $400 for commercial buildings — and doubles each year the building remains empty. The fee also includes an inspection by Gates.

The local law is patterned after a program in Painesville created by ex-Conneaut manager Doug Lewis. In a meeting last year, Lewis said the program has helped his city trim the number of problems associated with vacant buildings.

In Conneaut, as of late last month, 19 owners of residential properties contacted by the city have registered their properties, Gates said. Letters were sent to 33 owners, she said. Twenty-one owners of commercial property in town have been sent letters and 13 have registered, she said.

“There’s more out there,” Gates said. “It’s just a matter of finding them.”

One reliable barometer to determine a vacant building is water usage at the address, Gates said. “We work closely with the water department,” she said.

Gates said financial institutions, owners of foreclosed properties, are readily complying with the registration program.

“Banks that own houses are sending in money without being notified,” she said. “They’re taking it upon themselves (to follow the law).”

Council has paid plenty of attention to the plight of property in recent months. In addition to the vacant building program, council is also working on an occupancy permit initiative that would require inspections of houses and apartments before they are sold or rented.

At community meetings, the poor condition of the city’s housing stock has consistently ranked as a number-one concern of attendees.