Upper Arlington targets problem commercial properties
Upper Arlington officials recently added a tool to the city's code-enforcement arsenal designed to combat commercial properties that remain vacant for extended periods or fall into disrepair.
Following passage by Upper Arlington City Council on April 13, a provision was added to the city's property-maintenance code that enables the city manager to determine a commercial property is a "public nuisance."
After going into effect May 13, the rule also allows fines of $1,000 per day on the property owner if steps aren't taken to address the matter.
"The legislation provides the city with an additional tool for addressing vacant commercial properties that have been neglected, resulting in property maintenance issues," said Emma Speight, Upper Arlington's community-affairs director. "Attaching a financial penalty to this process provides a meaningful incentive for property owners to bring their property into compliance."
Speight said the provision applies to all vacant commercial properties in the city.
"To date, no commercial properties have been identified that would trigger this process," she said June 10. "There are currently specific property-maintenance regulations in the code addressing residential properties that are in disrepair."
The legislation comes after council members and other city officials publicly lamented their inability to force Kroger Co. to redevelop the Macy's building and affiliated 6.2-acre property at Kingsdale Shopping Center. Kroger purchased the property in January 2015 for $10.5 million, according to the Franklin County Auditor's Office.
However, Kroger never demolished the 105,422-square-foot Macy's building or submitted plans to the city for redeveloping the site.
In early 2019, council President Kip Greenhill expressed frustration with the inactivity at the site, and officials sought ways to spur a project there or penalize the company for failing to do so.
"I think we have to take a look at surrounding properties," he said at a Feb. 19, 2019, council conference session. "That big blue (Macy's) building does not help property values or make anyone want to move into a vacant area there.
"I think we have to protect other people's property values."
According to an April 13 staff report to council from City Manager Steve Schoeny, city attorney Jeanine Hummer and assistant city attorney Jesse Armstrong, the new procedure includes "significant notice and due process rights with numerous safeguards in place to ensure the fair, equal and equitable treatment of property maintenance issues."
In order to declare a commercial property a "nuisance," the city must establish the property has been vacant at least six months, and the property must be in violation of some provision of the city's property-maintenance code or the building code.
Once declared a nuisance, the city manager is required to provide a notice to the property owner that identifies all code sections in violation and provide the owner with "reasonable time" to remedy the situation.
That notice can be appealed to the Upper Arlington Board of Building Standards.
However, if the appeal fails or if the owner fails to bring the property into compliance in the time provided in the notice, the city can fine the owner $1,000 per day until the matter is resolved.
If the city does levy a fine, the city manager also can take the matter to Franklin County Municipal Court in an attempt to force the property owner to pay.
"Thus, the ($1,000 per day fine) may only be applied after repeated failures by a property owner to remedy the conditions causing the public nuisance, after multiple notices to do so and being given a reasonable timeframe to comply," the staff report stated. "The property owner has the right to appeal the notice of violation for the underlying code violation and has the right to appeal the finding of a public nuisance."
Speight said the primary goal of the city's Code Compliance Office is to ensure that all privately owned property is maintained, as well as to protect the community's health, safety and overall welfare and preserve property values.
"Vacant properties are particularly susceptible to neglect and deterioration, and this legislation provides a means for the city to address issues that may arise over time with vacant commercial properties," she said.
Kroger announced June 5 it planned to back out from the Kingsdale site, and Amy McCormick, a company spokeswoman, said the new property-maintenance rules didn't impact that decision.
"(Kroger officials) had known for a couple months that that legislation was coming," he said.
"They didn't move for five years and finally when that legislation was passed, they moved."