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Council Discusses Ordinance for Derelict/Abandoned Downtown Buildings

 

 

 

Main Street Lamar

 

 

Lamar City Administrator, John Sutherland, handed council members copies of code ordinances used by other communities as a means of curtailing or eliminating blighted buildings in their towns. “They can be reviewed to aid us in coming to a decision about what to do with our own situation,” Sutherland explained.  Angie Cue, Lamar Community Development Director, along with the Prowers Economic Prosperity board, is compiling a listing of empty or abandoned buildings in Lamar and Prowers County, seeking to determine who the owners are and what levels of work need to be done to bring the buildings up to code in an effort to get them suitable for new businesses.

Lamar’s downtown retail sector began to thin out in the early 1980s. Coupled with the East Olive Street sale barn fire around 1985, the closing of the Tempo store a few years earlier and K-Mart’s closing on North Main; those events marked a change in downtown economics.  Some retail stores, long operated by owners or managers either sold to another party or simply closed the doors to their operations.  Along the way, some retailer businesses closed only to become service-oriented businesses as evidenced by the ever smaller crowds on Main Street during sidewalk sales.  And once shut some stores or restaurants never re-opened.

Former Main Cafe

The city council and economic development groups are attempting to alter this trend, but eye-appealing and serviceable locations that can meet building code basics and attract entrepreneurs and customers have been hard to create. Sutherland explained during the April 1st work session that some ordinance samples require any building be kept up to a basic code at all times and if not, a financial penalty could be brought to bear even if it were abandoned.  Owners would be given 90 days, for example, to submit a plan for basic revitalization and would be given a year or two to complete a turnaround.  “We’re willing to work with them,” Sutherland said, adding that efforts have been stymied as some owners have no plan for their property and show little enthusiasm for improvements.  “Are we better off with a derelict building or just an empty lot,” he asked.

Main Street Banner

Mayor Roger Stagner said he’s spoken to La Junta officials for insight on their experiences that echo those in Lamar. “They have had similar results.  For example they’ve put liens on one abandoned building and over time wound up owning an empty lot that cost them $60,000.  It’s going to be hard to sell that land that already costs an extra $60,000 to purchase.”  Lamar’s Urban Redevelopment Authority has a yearly budget of about $100,000 to $140,000 to aid in business property development, usually earmarked for lasting infrastructure improvements such as plumbing, HVAC, roof repair or electrical work.  Getting local or absentee owners to make the first move is frustrating.

Councilman Kirk Crespin remarked that the situation won’t improve in the future. “What will these buildings along Main Street be like in another five or ten years? If the state ever gets funding to build the by-pass that could really hurt downtown and it’s going to cost even more then to try to improve these places.”  City Attorney, Garth Nieschburg, offered that those store owners who have invested their own money into their businesses are being hurt by their proximity to an abandoned storefront.

Sutherland added that there should be a community ethic about your own neighborhood. “Is there an expectation of the community members that is justified in how you individually maintain your property?  Is that a legitimate concern?  How I care for mine effects your property value.  If I don’t treat my property well, it lessens the value of your place as a structure or viable business.  I think it’s a legitimate concern that there should be a community interest about how your property looks,” he told the council.  Sutherland recommended council members review the ordinances and the city will gather more information from other communities for future discussions before a decision is made on creating similar ordinances for Lamar.  In the meantime, the council would like to hear from citizens or property owners regarding their concerns.

By Russ Baldwin

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