Champaign council asks for more clarity in vacant buildings proposal

Champaign council asks for more clarity in vacant buildings proposal

CHAMPAIGN — The city council Tuesday night asked for more work to be done on a proposed vacant structures ordinance that officials have said would tighten enforcement on empty and “underutilized” buildings.

The council deferred the decision after a lineup of local business leaders spoke on the podium and said the proposed language in the ordinance is overreaching.

“If this is truly about getting at unresponsive property owners, then let’s put language in the ordinance that reflects that,” said Laura Weis, president and CEO of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce.

City officials have said the tougher ordinance would eliminate long court processes to mitigate “nuisance” buildings. Those processes usually occur when property owners ignore city notices that their empty buildings are in violation of city property codes.

But business representatives and some council members Tuesday said they fear the language in the ordinance is too vague, which could open the door for harsher enforcement efforts against responsible property owners that properly abate violations.

“Vacant buildings and underutilized buildings themselves are not the issue,” Weis said. “The issue is the unresponsive owner.”

Kevin Jackson, director of the city’s neighborhood services department, said the ordinance is needed to replace lax enforcement rules that are not sufficient or timely to cut down on the blight, crime and fire risk posed by the city’s roughly 200 vacant or underutilized buildings.

Council members acknowledged that vacant buildings are a concern but said more clarification is needed before putting the ordinance on the books.

It’s a fairly moderate proposal just as is,” council member Marci Dodds said. “But I think there’s a lot of hysteria about it” because it is not specific enough.

The proposed ordinance, first introduced in February 2009 before it was then sent back to city staff for more work, will again return to the neighborhood services department for clarification.

After more than three hours of discussion on the vacant structures ordinance, council members Tuesday also deferred a discussion on public notices of city meetings to a future date.

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