CHAMPAIGN — City officials hope a new ordinance with some teeth to deal with problem properties and their delinquent owners will begin to cleanup vacant buildings throughout the city.
The city council voted 7-2 on Tuesday night to approve the new vacant-buildings ordinance, which associates stricter time frames and penalties with existing city codes that city officials have said in the past were too lax.
"We need to do something," said council member Vic McIntosh. "These are our preservation neighborhoods; this is part of what we do in trying to protect them."
The ordinance had been years in the making. Two years ago, city administrators sent a proposal to the city council. At the time, it was ultimately defeated, thanks in part to lobbying from the business community.
Tuesday's ordinance was a revised version of the old proposal, and this time it passed with little resistance.
The old rules required that property owners secure and maintain vacant buildings — with boarded windows, for example — but it did not set any time requirements for compliance. That could lead to unresponsive property owners and long court battles before city officials can take any action to deal with the property.
The new ordinance sets conditions that would land a vacant property on a nuisance list: buildings that are unsafe for occupancy, that have been boarded up for 90 consecutive days, that have had unresolved property code violations for 45 consecutive days, that are delinquent on two property tax installments in a given year or that have been the site of repetitive criminal activity.
When one of those conditions is met, the city would require the property owner to submit a remediation plan and to register the building on a nuisance vacant property list.
That registration would carry with it a $300 fee for the first six months, $600 for the second six months and $900 for any six-month period thereafter. Failure to register a building would saddle the property owner with a $300 fine plus $50 per day until the building is properly registered, according to the draft ordinance. Unpaid fees could be held in a lien against the property.
Not everyone was sold on the new method. Council member Deborah Frank Feinen, a real estate lawyer, said she still gets caught up in some of the specifics. She and Paul Faraci were the two dissenting votes.
Feinen said she worries that some of the provisions will be red flags for mortgage lenders when a new owner looks to purchase a vacant property.
"I'm just not convinced that this is the solution that will get at everything that's going wrong," Feinen said. "And I'm concerned it will make it worse."
Garden Hills resident Amy Revilla said the neighborhood generally is supportive of the new plan. She's got six empty houses on her street alone, she said.
Those have been nuisances for police and put her own property value at risk, she said.
"These houses that are vacant and abandoned are vacant and abandoned," Revilla said.