Cover Story: Blighted buildings - new rules

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - They're not only an eye sore, but a real danger to our neighborhoods.  Abandoned buildings considered hot spots for vagrants and drugs.  But even worse, they can become death traps in the case of a fire, which is part of the reason Charlotte wants to end the problem of empty stores once and for all.

Abandoned buildings are a number one neighborhood complaint.  And we're seeing more abandoned buildings pop up in this deteroriating economy.

NC has given cities like Charlotte the green light to keep buildings like this from going downhill.. authority which they've never had before.. and they're about ready to use it.

Some call it the poster child for the problem.

Uptons.. former department store on Albemarle Road near Eastland Mall.. boarded up 10 years ago.

Now grown up in weeds.

An unauthorized parking lot for trucks.

A place for litter.. graffiti.. on the outside.

Inside the roof's caving in... declared by building inspectors "unsafe."

"This is really another tool in the tool box."

Walter Abernethy.. head of Charlotte Code Enforcement is anxious about new powers the city will have to keep buildings like these from becoming eyesores.

Starting April 1st Charlotte will be able to force property owners of abandoned buildings to bring them up to certain standards.

The city will be look at buildings that are unsafe and unsanitary.

Problems with roofing, plumbing, electrical.  Structural or foundation damage.  And buildings having property maintenance issues.

The new ordinance gives the city the authority to force repair or risk demolition.

"It's probably best in terms not to think about tearing them down," says Abernethy.  "We really at the start of the day we want the buildings repaired. We want them occupied. That's the essence of the ordinance. It isn't tearing the buildings down."

Used to be no matter what they looked like.. as long as property and building were secure there was little the city could do.

But a bill passed by the General Assembly and enacted two years ago.. gives cities authority to take action.

Why would we care if an abandoned building isn't safe?

If there's an emergency.. like we've seen before-- firefighters have to respond.. abandoned buildings become magnet for vagrants and for children.. and they can become death traps.

From the city's perspective.. it's also about economic development.

A two-fold goal.. not only to take care of an eyesore but to encourage future business.

Says Pat Mumford head of Neighborhood & Business Services, "There are a lot of buildings in this community that are currently vacant due to the economy. The intent is not to demolish everything. The intent is to make sure we have vibrant corridors."

Don't look for a lot to be torn down in short order.. there is a long process city must follow.

They're hoping property owners will bring them into compliance voluntarily.. but city leaders admit they may have to demolish some.

The ordinance takes effect in six months.

Demolition proceedings is a similar process the city uses to condemn homes  To give you an idea of the scope.. 5-thousand open cases homes up for demolition at any one time. but they only tear down about 100 a year.

Charlotte's first city in North Carolina to use the new law on a a massive scale.