Vacant property registry: a tool to fight blight

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Staff photo

The vacant property at 314 W. Main was once a beautiful historic home on Cambridge City’s Main Street. Property owners have been a mix of out-of-state owners since 2013. The town and neighbors have been mowing the lawn for at least the past two years.

A few bad apples… continued
Recently, Richmond Columbian Properties conducted a Quality of Place meeting where Jeff Siegler, community consultant and principal of Revitalize or Die, was the featured speaker. Siegler has helped communities consider revitalizing historic buildings to keep downtowns vibrant.
Siegler had great ideas for restoration of local downtowns, but also had useful information to help deal with residential property blight.
Abandoned property, unattended for years, is left to deteriorate more each year. Properties quickly become unsightly and in the summer weeds and bushes are left to take over. Storms may take down trees or gutters, and roofs can weaken leading to mold and a fragile or unsafe structure.
Communities struggle to hold property owners accountable, and that becomes even harder when owners live out of town or out of state. Siegler suggested a strategy that has worked in other communities, which is to create a vacant property registry (VPR).
According to Siegler’s Revitalize or Die Blog, once a VPR is put in place, the owner of any vacant property is required to sign a registry. The registry comes with a fee the owner has to pay, which covers administration costs of the program. In Siegler’s blog he explains, “In signing the registry, the owner must have their building in compliance with all city ordinances and the building will be toured on a regular basis by local officials to prove this. The property owner will also be required to provide access to the building in a timely manner. Each year the building remains vacant, the owner must re-register the property and in most every case, the registration fee doubles.”
Siegler also emphasizes the importance of the community coming together to let local lawmakers know they support this initiative and want change to happen.
While not all, a large number of egregious offenders of blighted property in Wayne County are connected to letting property sit vacant. One example is 314 W. Main St. in Cambridge City. This historic and once attractive property has been vacant for multiple years. Wayne County’s geographic information system site beaconschneidercorp.com reveals that between 2013 and 2021, the property has been owned by a mix of foreign-owned holding companies that have changed names every few years, but property tax information indicates relationships between each of those holding companies. More to come in future issues.

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