SNOW HILL– Snow Hill officials are hoping to put a stop to the increasing number of shuttered and deserted structures downtown with a new vacant building ordinance.
Though still in its early stages, the ordinance would set up a registration process and enable town staff to periodically inspect vacant buildings, both commercial and residential, in Snow Hill. There was standing room only at the old train station during a public hearing on the proposal Tuesday.
“It did what I wanted it to,” Snow Hill Mayor Charlie Dorman said. “It got the people talking about it.”
Dorman said vacant buildings had been a problem in Snow Hill for years. Currently there are 22 empty commercial buildings and close to 60 vacant homes. And they’re not just vacant—most are in need of extensive repairs.
“It’s kind of a blight,” he said. “We’re just trying to get these buildings up to code.”
At the urging of Michael Day, the town’s economic development consultant, town officials have spent the past few months drafting a vacant building ordinance. The 11 page document, which outlines a registration process, calls for maintenance plans and permits inspections, is based upon vacant building ordinances other area towns have in place. Day says many municipalities have been forced to pass ordinances to get property owners to address their empty buildings. In Snow Hill, he sees it as part of the solution to revitalizing the quiet town.
“I don’t know what else to do,” he said. “Snow Hill is sitting on a huge opportunity but the buildings need a lot of help.”
He believes the small size of the town, while it magnifies the problem, means it will be easier to address.
“From my vantage point it won’t be hard to get the town turned around because it’s so small,” Day said. “It’s not Frederick. It’s not Salisbury.”
The legislation discussed this week would create an annual registration fee (proposed at $300 for residential buildings and $500 for commercial) for buildings that have been vacant for at least 30 days. Buildings undergoing active renovations, or weekly work for no more than six months, would be exempt, as would buildings owned by the state, county or town.
The registration process would involve providing the town with contact information for the property owner as well as a maintenance plan. That plan would detail the measures being taken to secure the building and the length of time the owner expected it to be empty.
“It’s to poke them a little bit and see what their plans are,” Day said. “This seems to be what you’ve got to do to get some movement.”
The ordinance goes on to address standards for the exterior and interior condition of the building while it’s vacant.
Buildings undergoing restoration or those being marketed for sale would be allowed a waiver for all but $75 of the annual registration fee.
Dorman said he was pleased with the mix of residential and commercial property owners who attended Tuesday’s meeting to share their thoughts on the proposal. Based on the amount of community interest and the alternative ideas suggested, he plans to create a committee of interested property owners to tweak the ordinance. He hopes to have that done within the next 60 days.
“I want to see what they’ve got,” he said. “It’s going to take a couple months.”
Day stressed that the town was willing to work with property owners and wanted to see them succeed. Getting an ordinance on the books, however, would help push the town in the right direction.
“We want your ideas but we need to get something going,” he said.