Sara Swanson

Village to consider vacant storefront ordinance

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DDA town hall meeting last Wednesday on Downtown development.

Last Wednesday, August 16th, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) held a town hall on economic development. With about 40 attendees packed into the Village Room topics including the millions of dollars of improvements to Village over the last few years, starting up a “welcome wagon” for new residents, the possibility of combining the DDA and Chamber of Commerce, the results of a survey of downtown businesses, downtown parking, and finally, how to address vacant buildings on Main Street.

This last topic, vacant store fronts on Main Street, has been a frequently cited source of anxiety in the community, and as President Vailliencourt pointed out at the meeting, a topic of letters to the editor. While all of the vacant buildings are detrimental to neighboring business owners, and as stated by a Manchester Township business owner, effects the community beyond the Village by painting a broad picture of the Manchester-area, it is specifically the buildings in the downtown business district that owners have purposefully left vacant for years that were focused on.

Last winter, with funding from the Washtenaw County Convention and Tourism Bureau, the village hired a consultant to investigate solutions for vacant storefronts. Currently, unless the property is a safety hazard, the Village can’t do anything. However, the consultant discovered that the City of Muskegon was facing a similar issue and passed an ordinance that requires downtown buildings to be registered if vacant. If the spot remains vacant for a year, unless listed with a broker or otherwise being actively marketed to renters or buyers, the building owner is fined $100. The fee increases the longer the storefront is vacant. Muskegon has found this ordinance “extremely” successful in combating their vacant storefront problem. Roseville, Michigan is another community looking into enacting a similar ordinance.

But, Vailliencourt asked, “how long should the arm of government reach?” She asked the crowd multiple times what they thought of such an ordinance. One concern raised by an owner of a currently vacant building owner who is actively trying to find a renter, is that the ordinance be worded carefully so not to punish property owners legitimately trying to find tenants. Others expressed support of the ordinance, stating that the owners who intentionally leave their properties vacant are “actively harming to the community.” One downtown business owner pointed out that there are many storefronts that owners are trying to rent out but can’t, and that owners who don’t even bother to try to find renters are symptoms of the problem, not the root of the problem. Vailliencourt stated that the Village only has two options on this issue, to pursue the ordinance or to leave things as-is.

While no clear direction on the ordinance came from the audience at the meeting, it was apparent that it was not strongly opposed and had some amount of support. Vailliencourt decided to hold another town hall style meeting specifically on the topic of vacant storefronts and the potential of the ordinance during the next regularly-scheduled DDA meeting, Wednesday, September 20th at 7:30 pm in the Village Council chambers (or Village Room, if attendance is large enough).

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