Citizens Bring Concerns of Vacant Structure Ordinance to Town Hall Meeting

By Bonnie Culverhouse

The City of Minden hosted a well-attended town hall meeting Tuesday that was intended to help citizens see the goal of an ordinance for blighted commercial buildings.

City attorney Jimbo Yocum and Economic Development Director Phillip Smart drafted the ordinance but presented it with the understanding that it is a work in progress.

‘If there is any way, we can keep our businesses full of life, that’s what we want to do,” Yocum said. “This ordinance was done in an effort to cause people to utilize their property. What we don’t want is a vacant structure being empty for years and years and dragging property values down of adjacent properties, leaving our downtown buildings, especially, vacant for sometimes 10 years.”

Yocum said the proposed ordinance has “manageable restrictions and defined expectation of what we as a community expect from our property owners.”

“The ordinance allows us to step in before a property gets to the point of condemnation,” he said. “If the property is grown up and the building is in bad shape, that affects your neighbor’s property value.”

Part of the ordinance requests property owners have $1million worth of insurance, a concern of some persons who say they may not be able to afford it.

“We originally had it at $100,000, but Councilwoman (Terika) Walker wanted it changed to $1 million,” Yocum said.

The proposed ordinance focuses on buildings that have been vacant for more than a year and have owners that may not live near Minden, thus, ignoring upkeep. It does not apply to residential buildings – only commercial, Yocum stressed.

“If the building has been damaged by a tornado or something, there are provisions in this ordinance that provide for that,” Yocum said. “If you are making a good faith effort, and the property is listed at a fair market price, then all that’s taken into account.”

Yocum said there will be steps taken to notify the property owner if the building is under scrutiny. Owners will receive a letter giving them 30 days to bring the property up to speed or contact the city with a game plan. A second letter will be sent explaining the ordinance and penalties.

“For every 30 days that you are in noncompliance, you will be issued a citation for $300 plus court costs,” he said. “That occurs every month. It becomes a very good motivator.”

Resident Kevin Mixon said he believes the ordinance will take Minden in the right direction, a place it hasn’t been in a while.

“I’m thinking about the Pizza Hut and taco buildings (Homer Road),” Mixon said. “Is anyone showing these buildings?

Smart said he has shown many of the vacant buildings to businesses that would like to come to Minden.

“But the owners don’t know how much they want for them,” he said. “Or they want too much.”

When questioned about the citations and penalties in the ordinance, Yocum said it is simple.

“This,” he said as he held up a copy of the proposed ordinance, “gives it teeth. If you don’t have penalties or restrictions, the property owner doesn’t have to do anything. He can leave it just like it is. It has to have teeth if we are going to enforce it.”

Once the council makes revisions, Yocum said the ordinance will be made available to the public before the final vote takes place.

The Minden City Council will vote on the ordinance, and Minden Planning Commission/Zoning Board will oversee it, talking with property owners on a case-by-case basis. The commission has a representative from each district, Sarah Haynes, Jo Ann McWoodson, Michael Davis, Morris Busby and Steve Wilson.