Vacant building burns while ordinance remains stalled

With Mary Schenk reporting that a fire heavily damaged a vacant home in north Champaign late Monday night, that got me thinking again about the city's proposed vacant buildings ordinance.

City officials are hoping the council adopts an ordinance that would codify tighter enforcement rules on vacant properties. As it stands right now, city staff often deal with unresponsive property owners, who don't keep their buildings up to code. I wrote about this issue in March (and, strangely enough, mentioned the building where Monday night's fire ignited).

That proposed ordinance went to the city council in June. Amid complaints from local business leaders that the ordinance was too vague, council members sent it back to the Neighborhood Services Department so staff there could clarify the ordinance.

David Oliver, Champaign's code compliance manager, said today that "nothing has transpired since then," and it's not clear when that ordinance might return to council.

Could it have prevented the Monday night fire in the vacant building at 903 N. Walnut St.?

"It’s hard to say, because the property, even though it was vacant, it was secured," Oliver said.

He said it "appeared the transient had removed a board and was residing in the house." It is still unknown whether the fire was set on purpose or on accident.

While he couldn't speculate whether the ordinance may have prevented the fire — or if the lack of a vacant buildings ordinance caused the fire — if the home was occupied, he said, then "this may not have happened."

The building has been on the radar for the city, however, according to Mary Schenk's story: "(Fire department spokeswoman Dena) Schumacher said the city’s Neighborhood Services department has been notified about the property, which she said is owned by Soo Qeong Palomaki. That department is seeking the repair or demolition of the property and a court date on the request is scheduled for next week. The same house was heavily damaged by fire Nov. 2 and that damage had not been repaired, Schumacher said."

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