REGISTER VIEWPOINT: Give cities tools to reclaim bad properties

It took too long, they'll agree, but Norwalk city officials finally were able to get foreclosure on the disused Norwalk Foundry prop
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

 

It took too long, they'll agree, but Norwalk city officials finally were able to get foreclosure on the disused Norwalk Foundry property, whose legal limbo had kept anything from happening at the site since it closed more than a decade ago.

City officials should be commended, of course, for refusing to give up and let the Newton Street property sit idle while its absentee owners paid no property taxes and let nothing happen besides deterioration and disuse. In a time when any opportunity has to be seized and capitalized on, no town can afford to let property go to seed.

But the length of the struggle shows us a town looking to maximize the potential of the land in its borders can use some allies.

To that end, we call on state legislators to create tools for cities to use when property is sitting idle and the owners aren't interested in keeping it up.

We're not talking about the rightly-vilified "blight" justification that let cities raze private homes to build strip malls. That's an abuse of the concept, and one that was rightly shot down in all the important courts, including the court of public opinion.

But if a property owner fails to meet the usual tests of whether he or she cares about the disposition of property -- such as taking care of it, or paying the taxes on it -- a local government should have the tools to use to act on that.

To cite one glaring example, a way should be found for governments to collect what's owing, as in foreclosure, without being immediately liable for cleaning up whatever environmental mess was allowed to accumulate over the years. The cost of these cleanups has stymied many an attempt to rehabilitate a piece of property and put back into productive use.

Creating effective tools with the appropriate safeguards to prevent abuse, such as the use of eminent domain to make way for strip malls, will be a challenge, but its one we think the state legislature should find worthy of taking on.