Council Has First Reading Of Vacant Building Law

Managing Editor

St. Marys City Councilors heard the first reading of an ordinance that will help combat vacant buildings in the city.

During Monday’s meeting, councilors heard the first reading of Ordinance 2019-27, an ordinance enacting chapter 1343 of codified ordinances providing for the registration of vacant buildings. 

Members from the Streets and Sidewalks Committee, Law Director Kraig Noble and St. Marys Fire Chief Doug Ayers have worked together on legislation and have been supported by businesses and community members.

The purpose of such an ordinance is to establish a program to identify, register and inspect vacant buildings within the city of St. Marys that may present a fire hazard, temporary occupancy for transients, detract from private or public efforts to rehabilitate or maintain surrounding buildings and provide a hazard to the health, safety and welfare of the public.

What is deemed as a vacant building is no evidence of occupation by an owner, lessees or other person in lawful possession for more than 90 days.

Evidence of a vacant building would be no utility usage, delinquent real estate taxes, overgrown or dead vegetation, accumulation of trash, junk or debris, evidence of infestation of rodents, broken or boarded up windows and outdated signage, among others. 

For commercial/industrial buildings deemed vacant, the owner shall acquire or maintain general liability insurance of not fewer than $1 million and $250,000 for a vacant residential building. Only commercial building owners have to submit a rehabilitation plan to the city in the case their building is left vacant for some time in order to avoid fees. 

Furthermore, all vacant buildings within the city have to be designated by the safety service director. The annual registration fee for a vacant residential building is $250 and $400 for commercial/industrial for the first year. For every consecutive year a commercial/industrial building remains vacant, the annual registration fee will be assessed at double the previous year’s fee amount for a maximum of $6,400, which will be the fee for the fifth and all consecutive, subsequent years of vacancy. If a registration form is filled late, there will be a $1,000 fee.

After registering, the owner must have a vacant building plan that is approved by the fire chief and shall be selected from at least one of the three categories: Demolition that cannot exceeded one year, secured structure that has a regular maintenance plan of all structural openings, such as windows, doors and areaways and rehabilitation within one year. Violation of any of the provisions is a first-degree misdemeanor.

The legislation — which will have to go through two more readings before being passed by council — mirrors a similar one the city of Sandusky used to address its vacant buildings issue in 2012.

Also on Monday, council suspended the rules and passed Resolution 2019-25, authorizing the application from the Clean Ohio Fund.

Fund that the city will apply for will allow it to purchase about 7.8 acres of land along the Miami-Erie Canal, located just south of Miami-Erie Circle. The land is owned by James and Janice Heinrich and the city is looking to purchase about half of the 14.813 acres of land at a cost of $156,000.

According to Mike Burkholder, manager of industrial and community development, the program will allow the city to apply for up to 74% of the cost — which in this case would be $115,444 — which would leave a little more than $40,000 for the city to pay. He added the city’s goal is to keep the land as a nature preserve.