Derelict buildings program in the works - NBC12.com - Richmond, VA News

Derelict buildings program in the works

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

If you are fed-up with seeing rundown properties in disrepair in your neighborhood, Richmond officials are working on a solution. Monday night, city council is scheduled to vote on a proposal it says will add another tool to deal with those properties.

Vice President Ellen Robertson, who is sponsoring the ordinance, said it is more aggressive than what is currently on the books when it comes to getting rid of unsightly properties.

Boarded up doors and broken windows are not exactly what Flora Bell Cassidy wants next to her Church Hill home.

"I come out in the summer and sit on the porch and have to see something like that," she explained. "It's very nerve-racking."

The new ordinance defines some buildings like that as derelict - ones that might endanger the public's health and safety and, for six months or longer, have been vacant, boarded up and not connected to utilities.

"I wouldn't want to buy or rent in this neighborhood, not looking at all this other junk around here," Cassidy said.

But Flora Bell might not have to look at "this other junk" for much longer. Under the ordinance, the city would send notice to derelict property owners, which requires them to submit a plan within 90 days to either demolish or rehabilitate the building.

Robertson says the goal is to motivate owners to take responsibility in a preventative, proactive way.

"They may not be in the worst shape but would be likely to become that way if there isn't a tool that we have to encourage people to make those changes before it gets to the worst shape," she explained.

This may sound like some blight programs on the books, but Robertson maintains it's more aggressive. It comes with criminal charges which could land a property owner in jail or paying fines.

We asked Robertson whether or not the ordinance has teeth and if the city will back them up and actually take property owners to court.

"It's not much use of us having this legislation in place if we aren't going to follow through on the letter of the law," she responded.

Opponents of the plan believe it offers too much incentive to demolish properties.

Historic Richmond Foundation Director of Preservation Services Amy Swartz emailed us the following statement: "The Derelict Ordinance will provide the opportunity for our city to begin using the receivership tool provided by state legislation.  If passed, HRF highly encourages our city to use this tool for rehabilitation rather than demolition.  This vehicle will benefit property owners, neighborhoods, and the city."

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