Dover City Hall officials plan to consider amendments to the city's Vacant Buildings Ordinance in order to improve the city's ability to deal with the growing number of problem properties in the city.

Dover City Hall officials plan to consider amendments to the city's Vacant Buildings Ordinance in order to improve the city's ability to deal with the growing number of problem properties in the city.

But when that comes has not been determined. Dover City Council's Legislative, Finance & Administration Committee has referred the new ordinance back to the Dover Department of Planning & Inspections for more tweaking.

The number of vacant and problem properties has increased due to the recent, tough economy and those neighborhood eyesores have adversely affected several neighborhoods, Dover Director of Planning & Community Development Ann Marie Townshend said.

The city had about 350 vacant properties at this point, and most of them were problem properties, Townshend said. The Vacant Buildings Ordinance since was passed by council in 2006.

Among other things, the amendments propose requiring the owner or property manager to register their vacant properties within 30 days of becoming vacant as opposed to the current 90 days allowed, Townshend said.

Among other revisions, Townshend also proposed that property owners who have failed to register and have to be notified several times to register by city staff should not be entitled to an exemption from the registration fee given the costs of such labor, she said. (The exemptions include, for example, a licensed real estate agent or broker actively attempting to sell the property for up to three years.)

"If we have to notify you three or four times, you have to pay," she said.

But she said the part of the ordinance that was likely to be a matter of contention, based on her discussions with the Kent County Association of Realtors, was the proposal to make registration fees for non-residential vacant buildings with a square footage of 10,000 or more double what they were for residential buildings or smaller non-residential buildings, Townshend said. The vacant building fees for residential and non-residential buildings under 10,000 square feet would be $250 for the first year, $500 for the second year $1,000 for three to five years and $2,000 for more than five years while the fees for non-residential buildings would be twice as much as each of those time periods as a disincentive to having vacant buildings, Townshend said.

The Kent County Association of Realtors supports the city's efforts to deal with vacant properties, said Philip McGinnis, chairman of the association's policy committee. But he expressed concern, among other things, about some of the larger properties being classified as completely vacant and labeled as eyesores just because as little as one suite was vacant. McGinnis asked that the association be able to work with Townshend's office on the proposed amendments.

Councilman William Hare said the proposal sounded like someone trying to sell a vacant 10,000 square foot property would be penalized even though he was doing everything right.

However, Councilman Sean Lynn said there was an exemption from the fees that gave property owners at least three years to sell their vacant properties without paying registration fees.

"This isn't aimed at hurting those who are actively marketing their properties at fair market value," he said. "This is really to address a huge and growing problem — vacant properties that aren't being marketed and are, frankly, an eyesore and safety concern."

Townshend said she was willing to extend the exemption to five years.

The vacant properties in neighborhoods were particularly problematic because people often broke into those properties and neighbors also had to look at things like broken windows and tall grass, she added.

"From my perspective, if we're out there and we have to spend considerable staff time to make sure those houses are as little of a nuisance as possible, then the owners of those buildings should pay for that service."