Time, weather, and neglect are the enemies of old buildings. Time and weather are beyond our ability to legislate, but an owner's decision to ignore an important building to the point that it cannot reasonably be saved is not.
Today, with assistance of the Board of Aldermen, I have taken the first steps necessary to give the Cultural Resources Office, the Preservation Board, and the Building Commissioner more leverage to take on property owners who allow our City's historic architecture, specifically buildings classified as High Merit, to fall victim to demolition-by-neglect.
Board Bill 332, which will be carried at the Board by Alderman Craig Schmid, would provide the City with a new tool to compel property owners to abate structural issues and code violations that, left over time, would lead to historic properties collapsing or requiring emergency demolition due to the threat of collapse.
Here's how it would work with a building at apparent risk:
- The Director of Cultural Resources would petition the Preservation Board for an initial determination that the building was significant and the threat real.
- If it agreed, the Preservation Board would refer the petition to the Building Commissioner so that the Building Commissioner could determine what, if any, particular conditions of the building need to be corrected in order to avoid loss of the building through demolition by neglect.
- The Building Commissioner would issue a notice of the conditions to the owner, who would have 30 days to abate the conditions or appeal to the Building Commissioner.
- If conditions endangering the building were not corrected, a summons for municipal court could be issued, a notice for an administrative hearing could be sent, or an action in state court could be commenced.
- Penalties for non-compliance would consist of existing fines provided by the City Charter, along with the ability of the Building Commissioner to correct the problems, bill the owner, and place a lien on the property for the costs.
Codifying demolition by neglect is one of several things I plan to do to ensure the City plays a more active role than we have in the past in preventing the endangerment of the High Merit historic buildings that help define our City.
With the help of Alderman Schmid's leadership BB332 was unanimously supported by the Public Safety committee this afternoon, and submitted to the full Board of Aldermen for further debate. If approved, I will sign BB332 into law this April.