Marine City aims to prevent blight – The Voice
Marine City officials are working to prevent blight in the community.
At the commission’s May 19 meeting, commissioners discussed the introduction and first reading of an ordinance meant to prevent blight. The ordinance, Ordinance No. 22-02, states that its purpose is to prevent, reduce or eliminate blight by preventing and eliminating contributing factors and causes of blight in the city.
“This ordinance addresses vacant or abandoned buildings which the city commission determines to contribute to blight,” the ordinance states. “By way of this ordinance, the city encourages proper occupied use of commercial and industrial buildings within their zoning districts. It is recognized that blight lowers property values, leads to deteriorating conditions, undermines the quality of life, affects the public health, safety and general welfare, potentially results in human injury and potentially invites criminal activities.”
“It is also determined that vacant or abandoned structures demand an inordinate amount of city administrative and ordinance enforcement resources,” the ordinance continues. “As such, the city commission finds the prolonged presence of vacant or abandoned structures to be unacceptable to the citizens of Marine City.”
Commissioner John Kreidler made a motion to approve the introduction and first reading of the ordinance.
Mayor Pro Tem Jacob Bryson first noted a couple of typos in the ordinance.
“This really puts me in a weird spot,” he said. “I have some reservations about this. Part of me doesn’t like adding more government overreach on trying to tell people what to do with their own property. That really kind of bothers me. But at the same time, you have properties that if they are vacant, not being used, it not only affects their property values, but their neighbor’s property values, which is an impact to your fellow citizens, which I believe we do need to address.”
He requested that there be a 90-day grace period between when the ordinance is enacted and when the city starts levying fees.
“That way people have an opportunity to do something with their building before they get smacked with a financial fee,” he said.
He also requested that in that time frame, the city sends notices to properties that might be affected by the ordinance saying that their property may be impacted so they should come and speak with city officials.
Commissioner William Klaassen said that the city has the property maintenance code, so the only thing the ordinance adds is fines.
“It’s a little bit stricter than that code, simply because it’s not just about the vacant buildings, it’s also about … the misuse of them,” City Manager Holly Tatman said. “I’ve been here nine months now and I have seen the building department and our blight code enforcer work heavily with the admin staff to reach out to some of these vacant building and find out what is your intent, what can we do, why aren’t you paying your bills, what’s going on and nothing happens. … We don’t even have proper addresses — the county doesn’t even have proper addresses for some of these to send taxes to. Those properties are just going to continue to get debilitated to the point they end up in dangerous buildings.”
She said she spoke to a couple of other communities in Michigan who have passed similar ordinances and they said that it has worked well.
“After it lights the fire and … the town realizes that you are serious about blight, you are trying to clean these things up and people become proactive, it is something that you can phase out once you eliminate the problem,” Tatman said, noting that the ordinance will make people decide to fill the building with a tenant or sell it. “It’s one of the methods that we thought would help us with our blight problems, specifically for commercial buildings that were sitting vacant or being misused in the zone for which it’s zoned for.”
Mayor Cheryl Vercammen said that what concerns her is that people do not know what is inside the vacant buildings and it could be a safety issue.
Commissioner Lisa Hendrick pointed out that the numbering of the ordinance is off and said that the city has policies in place already that cover what the ordinance does. She said she was concerned that the ordinance is overdoing it and could conflict with the current policies.
She also said she has the same concerns as Bryson.
“We’re getting into a real scary time right now, and if we start getting into a deeper recession, we have to worry that we could have a lot of buildings, and I don’t see faulting a person because they can’t get somebody to rent the building,” she said. “We need to have some sort of clarification so we’re not just nailing them because it’s vacant. If they can’t find anybody to rent the building, and they keep the building in good shape, we shouldn’t have to hit them with a fee every month just because they can’t get somebody to rent it.”
Tatman said the ordinance states that if people prove that certain things are happening, like they are actively trying to sell, there are exceptions. She said the other ordinance did not go far enough, and that the planning commission, the city attorney, the Community and Economic Development Board and Wade Trim looked at the ordinance and multiple communities have passed similar ordinances. She said it does not make anything in the current ordinances irrelevant.
Hendrick said the current blight ordinance covers unmaintained vacant buildings and blighted structures. Tatman said the problem is that some of the buildings are not that blighted on the outside but the city knows that it is being used for a different use indoors.
City Attorney Robert Davis said the ordinance scheme is “quite popular” in Michigan and that it covers predominantly downtown commercially developed areas.
“Somebody goes out of business and … the building’s not subject to blight, it’s not a problem from a blight standpoint, but what the owner does is conducts a different use that’s not allowed in the zoning district while his building isn’t being rented for its intended purpose,” he said. “And that’s what’s happening in your community a little bit right now, is some of the buildings that aren’t functioning for their intended purpose are being used for purposes that aren’t allowed in that zoning category.”
He said that the 90-day window Bryson brought up makes sense to him and that the fees are meant to incentivize the owner to get the building back in progress.
Hendrick asked about how many buildings the ordinance would affect. Tatman said there is a list of vacant buildings, but she did not have it on her that night.
“I do think that this … does segue a little bit into a much larger discussion about our code enforcement section, and obviously you have the rental inspection programs that we haven’t been doing much of lately, that I think we as a board need to have a whole separate line item on a future meeting to really get into that piece of it and how we can buttress our building and code enforcement,” Bryson said. “And this would be a piece of it but it’s not all of the whole problem.”
“It’s a good start,” Commissioner Brian Ross said.
Davis noted that the changes will be made for the second reading of the ordinance. Commissioners unanimously approved the introduction and first reading. Commissioner Wendy Kellehan was absent.