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Ordinance will improve city’s appearance

FAIRMONT– Fairmont’s new vacant building ordinance aims to rid the city of blight while also addressing safety concerns. The ordinance was adopted by the council in late October and goes into effect on the first of the new year.

The ordinance first came to the Fairmont City Council in September, along with amending the rental housing ordinance.

City Administrator Cathy Reynolds said part of the reason why the rental housing ordinance was changed was to help improve the appearances of homes in Fairmont.

“As we started talking about that, we acknowledged that we don’t have a vacant building ordinance and that fit hand in hand with what we were talking about with rental housing,” Reynolds explained.

Fairmont hasn’t had a vacant building ordinance in the past but it’s one that can be found in a lot of other communities.

While the city didn’t do any studies on it beforehand, Reynolds said a lot of people are aware of several vacant buildings in the community and she said the city gets quite a few complaints about them from community members.

“This gives us a means to do something with them,” Reynolds said.

The ordinance requires a vacant building to be registered with the city. Reynolds said part of the registration process will give a license or permit to the property, but the owner needs to file a property plan with the city.

“The property plan basically details what they’re intending to do with the property, what’s their usage, the repairs and upkeep of the building to avoid them from being run-down, blighted properties,” Reynolds said.

She said the property plan will need to be approved by the city. After 365 days, the ordinance gives the city the ability to go through the process as a blighted building and demolish the building unless the property plan provides for something different.

“It can be approved to stay vacant for longer if it’s in good condition and someone is actively trying to sell or lease it,” Reynolds said.

The goal of the ordinance is to prompt owners to do something about vacant buildings, but it also addresses safety issues.

“When you have a vacant building that’s sitting there and no one is in it or checking on it, it becomes a safe harbor for people to trespass into it. It’s not only the blight but a safety issue,” Reynolds said.

She pointed out it could lead to vandalism and other illegal activity as well.

The council didn’t have a lot of discussion surrounding the ordinance before it was approved. Reynolds said it goes in line with the priorities of the council.

“They’ve had a big priority on appearances and to make the town and community appear better. It makes it more welcoming and inviting. If someone comes into the community looking to establish a business and sees rundown, vacant buildings, we don’t look like a prosperous community,” she said.

The ordinance may only directly affect a few people, but has the potential to indirectly affect the whole community.

“Everybody talks about this vacant building or that vacant building. It does impact the community as a whole,” Reynolds said.

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