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Ayden board adopts code for vacant downtown buildings


By Amber Revels-Stocks
The Times-Leader

Friday, October 12, 2018

AYDEN — The Ayden Board of Commissioners took steps on Monday to nudge owners of vacant downtown buildings to do something with their properties.

Commissioners adopted a commercial building code that requires vacant buildings to be registered with the town’s planning department for an annual registration fee.

The code was developed after several meetings with downtown business owners and other interested parties.

Earlier this year, the town board requested the town’s Main Street Committee be charged with creating a draft non-residential building code for the board’s consideration, according to Ayden Manager Steve Harrell.

The Main Street Committee sent out letters to downtown business owners to invite them to one of two stakeholder meetings. Approximately 50 people attended these meetings, Harrell said.

The committee also allowed more input during its May meeting, and approximately 30 people attended.

The Main Street Committee proposed a vacant commercial building code that requires vacant buildings to be registered with the town’s planning department for an annual registration fee of $1,000, unless the building is actively listed with a licensed realtor or is under an active building permit in preparation for occupancy.

The code also outlines how vacant buildings shall be maintained to hide “evidence of vacancy.” This includes maintaining the exteriors, yard, deck and porch of vacant commercial property.

Commissioners held a public hearing on Sept. 9 on the ordinance. A few citizens spoke in favor of the code; one felt the registration fee was too high.

The Main Street Committee recommended making the vacant building registration fee effective one year after the adoption of the ordinance.

Commissioner Raymond Langley asked on Monday to make the registration fee effective immediately.

“The Main Street Committee did a great job,” Langley said. “I approve everything in here. Everything looks good.”

He wanted the registration fee effective immediately in order to convince businesses to become compliant with the code in a timely manner.

Ayden Mayor Steve Tripp said he understood Langley’s urgency, but felt it was inappropriate to make the registration fee due immediately.

“I think we need to give vacant property owners the opportunity to get everything straightened out before we start changing them,” Tripp said.

Harrell said the town is not ready to immediately start enforcing the fee. Code enforcement officer Wayne Hardee has to survey the B-1 and B-2 zones of the town to identify vacant commercial properties. Then the planning department could send out notices to property owners.

Harrell reiterated that the registration fee applies to any vacant commercial building that is not actively listed with a licensed realtor or under an active building permit. The fee is not just for vacant buildings that do not follow the vacant commercial building code.

Langley made the motion to adopt the building code with the $1,000 registration fee effective immediately, which Mayor Pro-Tem Ivory Mewborn seconded. It passed unanimously.

“I hope the town doesn’t collect hardly any of these fees because that means our property owners are doing something with the vacant property,” Langley said. “If we do collect any money from this registration fee of vacant properties, I’d like the board to look at taking the proceeds and putting it into our downtown façade program or an incubator program for downtown businesses.”

Tripp agreed the fees need to be put into a separate fund rather than the general fund, but wanted the fund to be governed by the board of commissioners and not the Main Street Committee.

The board asked Harrell to return with more options at a later date.