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Vacant Properties and Blight in Walkersville

The Walkersville Planning Commission spent a considerable portion of their public hearing last night discussing two proposed ordinances from the Town’s Economic Development Commission. Town Commissioner Russ Winch, representative on both commissions, explained that Burgess Ralph Whitmore wants this to be a priority. The Burgess and Town Commissioners assigned the EDC to develop and ordinance, and the proposal was then sent to the Planning Commission.

The┬áproposed ordinances were taken from other jurisdictions, some outside of the State of Maryland. Town Planner, Susan Hauver, suggested that the Town’s attorneys provide guidance to be sure the ordinance met Maryland law.

IMG_20141005_135003527The first proposal deals with “Garbage, Trash, and Litter” to “protect, maintain, and enhance the public health, safety and general well-fare by establishing requirement and procedures relating to the collection and disposal of solid waste.” The ordinance is filled with definitions, but Walkersville’s Code Enforcement Officer may need more definitions to make the ordinance enforceable. The proposal makes it illegal for storage or accumulation of any solid waste outside of an approved container more than seven days. The proposed ordinance also requires that properties, including vacant lots, be kept “in a sanitary, clean and tidy condition” to avoid a nuisance or fire hazard. Violations of either section would incur a daily fine of $100 per offense.

The second proposal requires the registration, inspection and regulation of vacant buildings. The ordinance aims to preventfire hazards, squatting, areas for drug use and trafficking, and to promote rehabilitation and maintenance of properties in the town. Owners of properties that are vacant for a year or more would have to register, pay a fee, and conform to regulations. The properties would be inspected and monitored to ensure that they comply with certain standards. Inspections would be performed by a code enforcement officer, the fire chief, and resident trooper, and may be re-inspected. Any violations would require remediation with fines for failure to comply with the ordinance.

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IMG_20141005_135626202_HDRPlanning Commission member Timothy Pollack immediately took issue with “taxing vacant properties,” and questioned the rationale. Michael Kuster, another member of the Planning Commission, and Town Commissioner Russ Winch, offered that vacant properties incur added costs for policing and hazards posed to the community. Planning Commission member Dick Brady suggested that these ordinances will not be effective and provided examples in the City of Frederick from cases he’s offered testimony as a real estate appraiser. “The one case has been in the courts for thirteen years, and nothing has been done,” he told the other members.

Members and the public discussed their frustrations with various commercial properties from Walkers Village Center to Marsala’s. The drug use and squatting on properties like the old Exxon gas station create a real problem according to members. Ms. Hauver explained the code enforcement is difficult under current regulations due to vague definitions or no ordinance to address some issues like Marsala’s.

The Planning Commission decided to invite the EDC, Code Enforcement Officer, town attorney, and Resident Trooper to their workshop next month to explore the issues further.

In other business, the Planning Commission approved the site plan for Singleton Fiber Arts Studio and Processing at the old Walkersville Market located at 25 Maple Avenue.

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