The council plans to impose fees on long-vacant properties “that may not be decrepit” or abandoned, said Mayor Pasquale Menna. After a change of ownership, 1 Broad Street, above, has remained vacant for two and a half years. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
The amendment to the property maintenance ordinance was originally scheduled for introduction February 8, but was delayed for further deliberation, Mayor Pasquale Menna said at the time.
The borough “has always had an abandoned properties ordinance, but it’s rather limited in scope,” Menna said said the council’s January 25 meeting. Now, in addition to foreclosed and abandoned sites, the council is taking aim at those with long-term vacancies.
Those include, he said, sites for which the owners may have obtained development approvals “but haven’t done anything with them.”
“Nobody lives there,” he said without specifying any particular address. “It becomes a nightmare, number one, for code enforcement to continuously follow the maintenance of these properties. It becomes a nightmare for the neighbors, who have to be vigilant in terms of properties that are seemingly abandoned. It depreciates the values of the properties of the neighbors.”
Menna said the issue was particularly acute downtown, where some buildings acquired by speculators have sat vacant for years.
Here’s the latest version of the amendment. which defines vacant properties and requires their owners to register them as such, with no fee charged upon registration. For commercial sites, the registration will cost $500, with renewal fees doubling annually, to $2,000. The fee increases in annual increments, topping out at $2,000.
For owners of residential properties, there’s no fee charged upon registration, but the first renewal will cost $50, and double the following year, topping out at $200.
Failure to comply with the ordinance could result in fines of up to $1,000 per day.
Borough Attorney Greg Cannon said last month that the amendment exempts “the ordinary circumstances” of vacancies that are listed for sale or rent. “It’s not as if the tenant moves out, you have to register the first month and pay fees,” he said. “This is designed to deal with problem properties.”
It also, he said, would bring the borough up to date with “all the enforcement powers” available to municipalities under a state statute.
Here’s the full meeting agenda. The council’s meeting, normally held at 6:30 p.m., has been moved to 5 p.m. to accommodate the planning board, which will meet in the council chamber at 7 p.m. to hear the latest proposal for a 35-unit apartment building at 55 West Front Street.