City plans to combat vacant buildings (My San Antonio)

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City plans to combat vacant buildings (My San Antonio)

In a new program meant to resuscitate vacant buildings, property owners would have to register their buildings with the city, comply with stricter code standards, and pay a $500 fine per violation.

“We don’t want any public shaming, we want to do education,” Lori Houston, director of the Center City Development Office, told members of City Council on Wednesday. “We want to educate people on opportunities that the buildings present. What incentives are available? What could this building become?”

At its core, property owners will have to register their buildings, and present a plan within 30 days of how they are to improve the building. They would have to display “vacant building” placards, carry insurance on the building, and sign a “no trespass affidavit” to allow safety responders to remove trespassers.

People who own single-family homes pay $250 to register, while owners of all other types of buildings pay $750. Failure to register would cost them up to $500 a day in fines.

The plan also raises the standard for the maintenance of vacant buildings. For example, currently all a vacant building needs to comply with city code is plywood on windows on the first floor, and not the upper floors.

“We don’t think that’s acceptable,” said Shanon Shea Miller, the city’s historic preservation officer. “What we’re proposing is for the building to look like someone could reasonably move into it. The windows are repaired. The doors are repaired. There’s no architectural features missing, or hanging off the building. So it doesn’t look abandoned.”

Failure to comply with the elevated standard could cost property owners up to $500 per violation.

The pilot program, scheduled to begin Jan. 1, would cover empty structures in the downtown and surrounding area, historic districts, as well as landmarks.

These buildings will require an annual inspection, which the owner pays for, at the cost of 1 cent per square foot, or a $50 minimum charge.

The plan also calls for an inter-local agreement between the city, Bexar County and the San Antonio Independent School District, that would grant the city first right of refusal in taking over properties that the county has acquired during the foreclosure process, and use wield those properties for future development.

“All three taxing entities have agreed to waive leans and taxes so that we can acquire them at a reduced rate and make them available for redevelopment,” Miller said.

The city estimates that roughly 800 properties will be effected in the pilot program. The plan is scheduled to go before the City Council during a June 4 B session, and to a regular council meeting on June 12.

The CCDO and OHP will then spend the rest of the year reaching out to property owners, and educating them on the other facets of the program, and other tools like State Historic Tax Credits, that are all meant to combat empty buildings.

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