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Council discusses vacant building fee

By Staff | Jun 15, 2015

The Shepherdstown Town Council discussed adoption of a measure to impose new fees on buildings left vacant within the historic downtown.

Council member David Rosen led discussion Tuesday night by explaining the proposal’s purpose.

The purpose of this is to promote and assure public safety, health and welfare, to prevent deterioration of vacant structures, and to support property values.

Rosen said many small towns around the region have adopted similar ordinances.

“It stands to cost other members of the town money,” he said.

Rosen defined vacant as: a building or structure where there is no habitual presence of persons who have legal rights to be on the premises.

The suggested rule would require the registration of all commercial and residential buildings left vacant for longer than six months.

At the end of a year, if the property was still found to be vacant, owners would be required to pay a fee, set to increase by double every two years until the space is occupied.

The council discussed basing the fee on square footage, so that larger buildings with a bigger impact on the community are assessed a larger fee.

“Overall it’s a win-win for the community,” Rosen said.

The measure could offer some potential relief to the business owners in the commercial sector of town, as many have lamented high cost to rent downtown.

“It forces our landlords to adjust the rates of rent to meet demand,” Rosen said.

Though the idea has been discussed in the past, the council has yet to take action on the topic because further research is still required, especially regarding enforcement.

Residents present at the meeting inquired about vacation homes and homes being prepared for sale.

Mayor Auxer said the final rule would likely be enforced subjectively and is really aimed at homes left abandoned and in disrepair for long periods.

“We’re trying to prevent residential buildings that just start crumbling.” Rosen said.

“There are costs associated with vacant buildings,” he said.

During Tuesday’s meeting the town also presented donations to the Shepherdstown Fire Department for new ambulance equipment and to the Friends of the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) for repair of their popular eagle camera.

Discussion also continued Tuesday regarding the adoption of the International Property Maintenance Code.

The topic was tabled and will continue at the next Planning Commission meeting, scheduled for Monday, June 15 at Town Hall.

The next meeting of the Shepherdststown Town Council will be held next month, Tuesday, July 14, at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall.