New ordinance will help fill vacant buildings

By Bonnie Culverhouse

As part of his job, Economic Development Director Phillip Smart works to bring new businesses to town, but while he is concerned about property for new construction,  he is also concerned with the many vacant buildings here.

“We have people with downtown structures that are vacant,” Smart said. “I don’t even know off the top of my head how many there are. The owners don’t want to sell them; they don’t want to lease them. They just sit there.”

So in order to move things along, Smart has created a Vacant Structure Ordinance, which he presented to the mayor and four members of the Minden City Council during an agenda workshop Friday.

“If you have a vacant structure and you’re not doing anything with it, within six months if it’s still vacant, you have to file it with the city and notify them that you have a vacant structure,” Smart said. “You have to have an overall projection of what you are going to do within the next six months.”

Whether the owner inherited from a death in the family and doesn’t yet know what will become of the property, or if they plan to renovate it to lease or sell, the owner will be required to let the city know, he said.

“Basically, it lets us put it on a list that says, ‘OK, this is available,’” Smart said. “Whether it’s for sale or for lease, you tell us all the information. Who it’s listed with, project manager or property manner. So, we have that contact information.”

The owner must also prove insurance on the property – a liability policy, he said, for safety’s sake.

After the six-month period, if the property isn’t sold or rented, a penalty will be assessed.

“And if it’s not marketed at fair value, you have to pay a penalty,” he said. “Fair market value is determined from the City of Minden, Webster Parish Assessor and the property owner.”

Rental works the same way.

“If it’s over the rental square-foot amount, you will be penalized,” he said.

The concern over vacant buildings includes more than just downtown Minden, as there are darkened doors on Homer Road and other parts of town.

“If it’s zoned business or commercial, it is part of it (proposed ordinance),” Smart said.

And in an effort to bring more pride to the business community, Smart said the buildings cannot have plywood on the windows.

“If you do, you can only have it for 30 days or you’re penalized,” he said.

Smart cited two businesses that recently wanted to lease buildings downtown, and rent was so high or the property owner didn’t want to lease or sell it, neither business owner could relocate to Minden.

District A Councilman Wayne Edwards expressed concern about the extensiveness of the proposed ordinance.

“What do you think will be the position of the people who own buildings downtown?” Edwards asked Smart during the workshop. “This (ordinance) is pretty extensive on what has to be done. It’s going to force people to sell their buildings. Is this what we want?”

Smart replied the hope is that owners will upgrade or sell their buildings, so they will no longer be vacant, overgrown and boarded.

Edwards agreed with a proposal by District E Councilwoman Pam Bloxom that would mean hosting a town hall meeting that will include all business owners – those present and the ones that do not live in town, so the ordinance can be explained in full to all.

A date and time have not yet been set.

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