Friday, July 27, 2012

The Committee Recommends

As a proud member of the City’s Blighted & Vacant Property Committee, I am thrilled to report that the Committee recently released our recommendations for commercial properties – on time and under budget (We do work for free).  The recommendations provide a great mix of carrots and sticks. I also feel the recommendations help fill in the spectrum from the currently available tools of code enforcement (the first tool of choice) and eminent domain (the last tool of choice).  You can read the full report on the City of Frederick’s website.  For this post, I am focusing solely on the recommendations. 

First, and the great news is this recommendation is already done, the Committee asked the City to create a Blighted Building Database to track problem buildings.  The Committee felt strongly that the database should be created and updated by City staff – property owners are not required to register and they are not required to pay a fee.  I think it is obvious that a good solid feel for the number of problem properties is the first place to start.

Second, the Committee supported the re-authorization of several existing tax incentives as well as the establishment of new tax credit programs.  These incentives were approved by the Board of Aldermen on July 19 and provide a clear incentive to invest in commercial buildings.
The third recommendation supported a Compounding or Escalating Fine System.  Built on a basic premise (three strikes and you’re out), more than three building code violations in one year and the owner will pay more for each additional violation. 
Fourth – an incentive – if you buy a property and it comes with liens built up due to recommendation#3 – but you have the plans and the money to rehabilitate, then the liens will be forgiven.  This recommendation removes a potential impediment to the sale of blighted buildings – the cost of paying outstanding fees and fines.  In the long term, we all win as the building will be renovated and back on the tax rolls. 

Fifth - a stick – in the creation of a Blighted Building Property Tax – which may ultimately become a fine based on Aldermanic input – that assesses an increased city property tax of five times the base rate on properties that are on the Blighted Building Database for more than one year.  The point of this incentive is to encourage owners to get their buildings off the blighted list.  

Finally, the Committee strongly recommended the establishment of a Property Receivership Program to allow for the appointment of a third party receiver to manage, rehabilitate, market and/or sell distressed properties.  

Next step, going from idea to reality by creating the necessary document, ordinances, etc to enact the recommendations.  While the Committee might take a moment to pause and celebrate this first successful milestone, I can assure you all are committed to seeing this task through to implementation.  Look for more to come. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Two Hour Tour

On a recent Thursday, the Partnership borrowed the City van (Thanks City of Frederick DED and especially Heather Gramm, our fantastic driver!), loaded up about 10 Design Committee members and headed south to take a tour of both Park Potomac and Downtown Silver Spring.  Why?  The Design Committee was following up on an offer from Brigg Bunker with Foulger Pratt to tour a couple of example projects in the area.  Foulger Pratt has been selected by the Brick Works to develop their 60+ acre parcel located between Interstate 70 and South Street – to the east of East Street.  While not within the traditional bounds of Downtown Frederick, the Brick Works site will have a significant impact on downtown when it develops.  The Partnership and many of the involved stakeholders agree that the development of the site should be complementary and not competitive to Downtown Frederick.  The Partnership wants to remain involved and be a part of the evolution of that idea – from the current concept to a future reality. 

The great news is that both of the developments we toured are very well done and provide interesting ideas to consider for the Brick Works site.  The Park Potomac site includes a significant amount of residential and I think some on the tour got to daydreaming about the potential positive impact of more downtown (or near downtown) residents.  

Both sites included public art – a great feature that I think most of us would love to see incorporated into the Brick Works site.  The art helped create a sense of excitement in an all new environment, providing a bit of the texture that historic communities have in abundance.  

Finally, we talked a bit about the current difficulties in the office market, despite some of our desires to see some significant new office space in close proximity to Downtown Frederick.  It will be a challenge to think thru 10 + years of growth on this site and how the uses, the mix and more will change in the intervening period.  

All in all, the tour was very successful, enabling all of the participants to talk through ideas and think a bit about what the future could bring.