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Vacant-building fee plan is considered

June 07, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Property owners who leave buildings vacant for too long would have to get a license and pay a fee under a system being considered in Hagerstown.

How long is too long and how much they would pay haven't been decided.

John Lestitian, the city's chief code enforcement officer, said the program would improve public safety because the city would inspect buildings before granting licenses.

He said the city, for example, might look for combustible materials being stored in a vacant building in a neighborhood.

A rough proposal of the program defines a vacant building as one that has been "entirely vacant for a period of 12 months or more."

Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer, who has pushed for a way to cut down on the number of vacant buildings downtown, asked for the period to be shorter.

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City Engineer Rodney Tissue suggested six months.

Cromer also said she didn't like the phrase "entirely vacant" because it didn't account for buildings in which one floor is occupied and other floors are not.

Lestitian said the program, if adopted, must consider economic issues, too, and should be shaped by groups inside and outside city government.

The city already has a licensing and inspection program for rental properties.

Lestitian said the license fee for vacant residential buildings might be about $100, which is what the city charges for a license for a boarding house.

The fee for commercial buildings might vary based on the type of property.

The license fee could go up for commercial properties that remain vacant longer, according to a memo Lestitian prepared on the proposal.

"I think we're on the right track," Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said.

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