Legislation Could Help Annapolis Battle Blighted Buildings
February 9, 2016
Annapolis officials are hoping the passage of state legislation will make it easier for them to monitor and punish owners of vacant or blighted buildings throughout the city.
Senate Bill 248 would allow municipalities across the state to create registries and a remediation fund from a special tax rate for vacant and blighted buildings. The fund would be used to repair the property.
Senator John Astle, D-Annapolis, sponsored the legislation and spoke at Tuesday’s hearing in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
He was joined by several city officials who argued that Annapolis would benefit from the bill because the city has not had success taking property owners to court after municipal fines are levied. The ultimate goal is to track properties and give the city the tools needed to prevent vacant and blighted properties from falling into condemned states or demolition by neglect, he said.
Demolition by neglect is when lack of repair and maintenance create unsafe properties that are beyond repair and eventually torn down.
“I walk by three abandoned buildings on my way to session,” Astle said. “We’ve got to do something.”
The city could create a list of the vacant and blighted properties, which they currently do, but a registry gives them legal weight that could help in future court cases, said Mike Leahy, city attorney.
Judges keep giving the property owners time to repair the property, but the owners never do, he said.
According to the fiscal note, there are 21 blighted properties in the city, all of which are residential, though the legislation would allow the city to register both residential and commercial properties.
The Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs determines a property is blighted based on a number of unresolved infractions. If it poses a public health risk, the case is taken to District Court.
“One of the most vexing problems I see is the staff in the law office spend a lot of time going to District Court on these properties,” Leahy said.
Sen. Ronald Young, D-Frederick, wondered if the city could already do this.
“I just don’t see what the bill does that you can’t do,” Young said.
Leahy asserted that the city has been told they couldn’t create the registry and remediation fund without the state enabling legislation.
At a Jan. 22 Anne Arundel delegation meeting, Speaker of the House Mike Busch, D-Annapolis, questioned the city’s position on the legislation, which focuses on private properties.
The old Annapolis Public Works building on Spa Road has been condemned and the city hasn’t fixed the property. Busch called the building a “pet peeve” of his.
“You know, you’ve got a building out there in the middle of Spa Road, where you have residential housing coming in at both directions … what’s the status of that?”
When asked about the Jan. 22 comment, Mayor Mike Pantelides admitted that it is a somewhat hypocritical position for the city to take, trying to force owners to fix their blighted properties while the city has failed to do so on its own.
There are plans to rebuild the public works building on the current property, he said.
“The city looked at several different options, the old Capital building, the armory, but they didn’t work out,” Pantelides said. “No matter what, that building is being torn down.”
Opponents to SB 248, bankers and commercial property owners, had concerns about the breadth of the legislation and its impact on commercial properties.
Mindy Lehman, Maryland Bankers Association vice president of government affairs, said the statewide legislation could create hundreds of methods of handling vacant and blighted properties. Each city could come up with its own methods of creating the registry and remediation fund.
It also could cause overlap problems with foreclosed properties, which are typically vacant but not always blighted.
“If this starts to pop up across the state, that could be difficult to comply with as they’re rolled out,” she said.
As for commercial properties, these can be vacant for longer than residential properties as owners search for the right business to bring into the building, said Bryson Popham, an attorney representing commercial property owners.
The 110 Compromise St. building is an example because it has been vacant, but it isn’t blighted, Popham said.
“I wouldn’t want to see the net cast so wide that it would pull these buildings in when the owners wants to get back on the tax roll,” Popham said.
Source: Capital Gazette
SB 248 (current text)
Analysis of SB 248 (Maryland General Assembly Department of Legislative Services)