SILVER CITY Ð The Silver City Town Council will vote on the future of the maintenance and safety of vacant commercial buildings downtown at its meeting on Tuesday.
The Town Council will vote on an ordinance that, if approved, will require owners of vacant commercial buildings in the Historic Downtown Commercial District to register with the Town's Community Development Department within 45 days of the ordinance passing and within 45 days of the building becoming vacant. It would also require that owners allow an inspection by the Fire Marshal and Town's building inspector to decide if the building is safe and not a fire hazard, something that isn't done now when a building is vacant. The owners would pay a $35 fee for the inspection. The ordinance would also require owners to file reports showing any changes, within ten days of the change, and maintain a minimum of $1 million in liability insurance. Penalties of not less than $100 per offense will be assessed if the owner does not comply.
According to the ordinance, the vacant properties also have an effect on the look of downtown and its economic growth.
"This has been a issue for a long time," said Nick Seibel, Silver City MainStreet project manager. "To see a property sit vacant and deteriorate for five to 10 years while millions of dollars are being invested into downtown is really frustrating. We had to do something."
Seibel said that when he took over as MainStreet project manager more than two years ago, the biggest concern he heard from downtown property owners was the vacant buildings. He said that many of the owners of these unoccupied buildings don't even live in Silver City, so those owners don't have to deal with the problem or the people here who have to live with the problem.
"A group of property owners used to meet as a merchant association," said Michael Morones, town councilor and sponsor of the ordinance. "A couple of years ago, they brought up the fact that there's basically the same amount of properties that have been vacant for a decade or more. They decided something needed to be done and that the vacant buildings detract from the look of downtown and there could be a safety issue."
Morones said that if passed, the vacant buildings would be routinely inspected for fire hazards, something that isn't done when a building is vacant now.
"Downtown is the one area where most buildings share a wall with another building," Marones said. "If there's a fire in a vacant building, you won't know until it's too late and it starts destroying occupied buildings."
It's a first step in the right direction, Seibel said.
"If passed, this isn't going to change anything immediately," he said. "We'll give it some time and see if it makes any difference and see if we need to ask the council to make changes."
"It's hard to tell if this will pass," Marones said. "It's been received fairly well. There are those who are in favor of this because it might motivate these owners to sell their vacant properties or do something with them."
Morones said there are between six and 12 buildings downtown around Bullard Street that are vacant.
"We're really happy that this is going forward and it looks like it will pass," Seibel said. "We've spent more than two years studying this issue and ordinances from other towns."
Daniel Laverty can be reached at (575) 538-5893 ext. 5803.