Sandusky finds success with blighted building rules
Jan 4, 2013 at 5:44 AM
About a year ago, Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci pioneered groundbreaking legislation calling for stricter enforcement against property owners vacating or ignoring blighted commercial buildings.
The law, which began in April, primarily aimed to improve neighborhood safety, since empty buildings entice criminal activity.
In the spring, firefighters counted 170 vacant or abandoned commercial structures in Sandusky.
A Register article in August provided an update on the young program, reporting that firefighters reduced the number to 96.
In 2013, the number of property owners violating the law has plummeted further, to 24. Within nine months the program has nearly solved the city's commercial blight issue.
The steep drop in violations resulted from firefighters mailing certified letters to the last known owners of the buildings in question. The letters ordered owners to spruce up their properties or otherwise face steep penalties through fines and possible criminal action.
Some owners, including those living in Michigan and Florida, responded by vowing to refurbish the properties.
"Owners are now taking a more proactive approach and maintaining their buildings," Ricci said. "They're selling their properties, renovating their properties, and going through the city's building department and getting certificates of occupancy for these properties."
The 24 property owners who remain in violation of city rules have thus far paid a collective $10,400 in fines. The funds help subsidize program expenses, such as firefighters' inspections and various paperwork filings.
Fines will increase depending on the degree of negligence on the part of property owners.
Smart entrepreneurs know this much: Vibrant businesses benefit the entire community, and well-maintained buildings — vacant or not — are a big part of that equation. When business is bustling and a city has its act together, it compels investors to relocate here.
Sandusky is a living testament to this.
Since summer 2011, roughly 25 entrepreneurs have invested in abandoned buildings or cleaned rundown structures, transforming them into successful businesses.
"The goal of this legislation was to identify these properties, target the owners of these properties, register them and make them safer for public services and resources," Ricci said. "A secondary benefit of this is, in some ways, it promotes downtown."
Among the dozens of property owners complying with the new rules, three talked to the Register about why they invested their time and resources into once-decrepit structures:
"It's important to keep these buildings up. You don't want people breaking into the property and becoming a nuisance." — David Wikel, owner of a six-acre factory and storage facility in the 1700 block of Camp St.
"I believe that every project, regardless if it's moving your lawn or putting in new pansies, spawns and inspires someone else to make something better." — Diane Ackerman, who along with her husband, Gary, purchased multiple downtown Sandusky buildings to turn into office and business space. Among her projects was the creation of J Bistro on West Market Street.
"Downtown is obviously going through a renaissance, and we're really excited about it." — Ryan Whaley, who continues to rehab a once-dilapidated East Water Street building, which will eventually serve as the main hub for his public relations company, Green Door Mediaworks.