PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council is considering ways to encourage owners of vacant commercial and residential buildings to put their properties to productive use.
City Council members discussed during a “think tank” session Tuesday night what a vacant building ordinance for the city could look like and what it would take to enforce any new rules.
“In downtown and all of Port Angeles we have a lot of properties that are vacant — whether that’s commercial or residential — but for me the focus is on commercial properties,” said Council member Mike French, who introduced the topic.
“There are properties that have been vacant for my entire career as a business owner. I cannot imagine being next door to them and running my business and being successful.”
French specifically called out two vacant properties on the corners of Front Street and Lincoln Street — often a visitor’s first impression of downtown Port Angeles.
French said he would like to see the city develop an annual fee that owners of vacant properties would have to pay if their property has sat vacant for a certain period of time.
The goal, he said, would be to prevent properties from becoming blights and to encourage owners of properties that are already blights to either develop their property or to sell it to someone that will.
“Putting a fee on this activity that has been going on for years in some cases, provides a win-win,” French said.
“It’s a win in the short term by providing us another revenue stream for code enforcement … and in the long term provides incentive for people to rehabilitate their properties themselves.”
Several council members emphasized they would not want to put in place an ordinance that would punish responsible homeowners who keep their properties maintained and who leave town for the winter.
“The real issue with the whole thing is the eyesores that people see,” said Council member Michael Merideth.
“That is what this should be directed at.”
Meredith said there are people in Port Angeles who have purchased property as an investment and they are not ready to sell or to rent.
“If they keep it up and they are maintaining, they shouldn’t have to pay anything,” he said. “They pay their taxes every year, they’re all caught up, the place is cleaned up, it’s not broken into.”
Merideth said if the city doesn’t have a way to enforce any new laws, then “it’s useless.”
Merideth said the City Council first needs to find a way to fund code enforcement before creating new rules.
“We’re putting the cart before the horse if we create a bunch of ordinances we can’t do anything with,” he said.
The city does not have a code enforcement officer, but French said the fees could be used to help fund code enforcement.
He said that as a nuisance property escalates, the fee could escalate as well.
“When we see private property that is not used productively, it is reasonable for us to consider tools to make sure that property is used productively,” French said.
The council discussed having code enforcement fall under the Port Angeles Police Department.
“Can we say we will take one of these officers and make them a code enforcement officer?” asked Mayor Sissi Bruch.
“It’s one of those things where we’re going to have to make the policy decision as to how to best use our budget.”
Council member Cherie Kidd said the council first needs to discuss any potential changes with the Port Angeles Police Department. Kidd said she could not support taking a police officer off the streets to work code enforcement.
“Every 15 minutes they are out on a call and when someone comes home from work — their back door has been kicked in, they have been robbed by people who need money for drugs — we can’t say your police officer won’t be right there because he’s out looking at vacant houses,” she said.
Council members agreed to continue the discussion following a work session in September that covers code enforcement.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].