An ordinance aimed at strengthening the city's ability to deal with the growing problem of vacant properties will go forward to Dover City Council for a first reading at its next meeting in late February.
Council's Legislative, Finance & Administration Committee unanimously approved the recommendation made by Dover Director of Planning Ann Marie Townshend Monday night as long as she incorporated some last minute revisions suggested by Phil McGinnis, chairman of the Kent County Association of Realtors' policy committee.
Among other things, Townshend's amendment proposed 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. Since the committee's Jan. 14 meeting and Townshend's Jan. 22 meeting with Realtors, the proposed ordinance had also been revised to specifically define a vacant property as "a building, structure or dwelling" that had been unoccupied for three consecutive months or a commercial space greater than 10,000 square feet in an otherwise occupied building, Townshend said. The latter was done to allay concerns by the Kent County Realtors, who did not want properties otherwise occupied, for the most part, penalized for one vacant space.
The revised ordinance also called for an exemption from the registration fee for vacant properties if they were actively offered for sale or lease by a licensed real estate agent or broker for a maximum period of five years, an increase over the previous three years allotted, Townshend said.
McGinnis said the revised definition of a vacant building greatly improved the ordinance. But he requested that language be added to define "actively for sale" as "marketed through a licensed real estate broker or the owner."
"Property owners should be entitled to market their own properties so long as they are active and open about it," he said.
McGinnis also requested more relief for vacant properties being actively marketed once the five-year exemption for vacant property registration fees had elapsed, among other things. Namely, he asked that the city start charging fees for the first year, lesser amount for the fee schedule as opposed to requiring the fourth-year, higher fee once the exemption had run its course. The fees listed in the ordinance ranged from $250 for a building vacant for one year or less to $4,000 for buildings vacant for five years or longer.
The number of vacant and problem properties has increased due to the recent, tough economy and those neighborhood eyesores have adversely affected several neighborhoods, Townshend has said. The city had about 350 vacant properties at this point.
The Vacant Buildings Ordinance since was passed by council in 2006.
The legislative committee's action put the revision to the ordinance on council's agenda for a first reading on Feb. 25, with action scheduled for the March 11 meeting in City Hall.