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Is the City of Frederick Doing Enough to Address Blighted Real Estate?

Posted by Steve Cranford on September 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Some may answer this question positively, but others believe at best the effort has been sporadic and inconclusive.

Is the City of Frederick Doing Enough to Address Blighted Real EstateHere’s the good news:  It appears that with all the attention that the issue of blighted real estate has gained over the last few years that the infamous slumlord  Duk Hee Ro is taking serious steps to improve her well-known Asiana building up to code … only of course after several delays and unfulfilled promises.

But there is a rumbling dissatisfaction among many that the City of Frederick may still not have a clear plan on how to follow through with recommendations made by the Blighted and Vacant Property Committee appointed by Mayor Randy McClement.

A History Lesson

During the summer of 2011, the Mayor and his staff began forming an ad hoc committee (meaning to serve at the pleasure of the Mayor) to help the City design a program for managing a growing concern about decaying buildings in the city.

It was in January of 2012 that the Committee officially was formed and became actively engaged in their mission.

Over the next ten months, the 16 member committee of citizens (including yours truly: Steve Cranford) and city staff reviewed hundreds of documents on blighted properties.  It studied legislation and community activities enacted by other jurisdictions to manage their blighted building problem.

From the beginning, the committee understood they were not a legislative or judicial body and their recommendations were a conceptual road map to help guide the City staff. The committee received excellent support from code enforcement, legal counsel, and various city staff.

To a member, the group was committed to presenting a comprehensive set of recommendations. The discussions were thorough, often passionate, and always charged with energy.

In the fall of 2012, the committee presented reports for both residential and commercial blighted real estate.  Within the reports are seven recommendations for the Mayor and Aldermen to use as a platform from which the staff could creatively design a wide-ranging program to help manage blighted real estate.

The Final Four … and Only Four

So, after 10 months of committee work followed by two years of city staff efforts, the Mayor’s office managed to identify just four blighted properties. This is a fraction of the thirty properties that staff identified in early 2012.  Over time the number was narrowed to twelve, but eventually it all came down to four.

It is understandable that when venturing into uncharted territory of facing the blight problem that the Mayor and his staff would approach such an effort with caution. But then again the actual blighted and receivership ordinances were mirror images of a neighboring jurisdiction that had given them time tested experience.

Six months after the Blighted and Vacant Property Committee completed its charge in April of this year, City staff provided an update of the committee’s recommendations to the public. As the briefing went on, it became evident to this and other committee members that in fact the recommendations were not developed beyond their initial statement. It seemed that the recommendations had become a task list.  As each recommendation was read aloud, a brief explanation was given of how the staff had completed that task.

It’s unclear if any further activity will take place on the committee’s recommendations. After all, each recommendation now has a check mark next to it.

It seems a Committee’s Work is Never Done?

Coincidentally several weeks ago a citizen’s petition was presented to the Mayor requesting the Blighted and Vacant Property Committee be reinstated as an ongoing advisory committee to the city; signaling that the citizens wanted more.

In an effort to mend “their relationship with residents, business owners and land-use professionals” over this issue, the Mayor and his staff held another briefing on Wednesday, August 27th … as well as for the benefit of the committee members to assure them that things are moving forward.

The Mayor’s opening remarks thanked the committee for its services, and clearly reiterated their ongoing efforts were not required.

Obviously, the city staff has a waterfall of initiatives they encounter every day and slogging through them is an arduous adventure. There is no doubt that the mayor has a highly talented brain trust at his disposal.

Unfortunately, that aptitude doesn’t appear to be fully utilized.

How many Crayons do you have?
The analogy that comes to mind is if you give a child a box of crayons and a piece of paper, within minutes he will create something and will likely use most of the colors in the box. The city’s blighted and vacant property committee gave the city a box of crayons and it appears they neatly listed all the colors in the box.

Is a citizen advisory committee the answer? Does the city need to direct more resources directed toward the blighted initiative?

Clearly, something has to be done to keep the mediocre momentum the city has generated from slowing down any further.

The author: Steve Cranford, Vice President of Commercial Sales and Leasing with MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. He served as a member of the City of Frederick’s Blighted and Vacant Property Committee during 2012. 

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Topics: Land Use and Government Ashleigh's Fields Notes