HOISINGTON — At Tuesday’s city council meeting, City Manager Jonathan Mitchell introduced a possible means of addressing an ongoing problem hindering economic development of the downtown business district. Its an issue most have noticed over the years: downtown or commercial districts riddled with empty or vacant buildings.
“Few things are more frustrating for someone involved with economic development than property owners who are not interested in selling properties that could be put to beneficial use, using buildings for storage or people who are asking three times what the appraised value is on a building and holding firm on those prices. It makes it really hard to fill storefronts,” Mitchell said.
He was recently contacted by a property owner who resides in Manhattan, who owns quite a few properties on Main Street. The owner indicated that one such building, they plan to evict all their tenants from and they will be warehousing the building so they don’t have to continue to pay utilities on it.
“This is distressing for us because the buildings are under utilized now,” he said.
Mitchell indicated this particular property isn’t the only one prompting him and Mayor Dalton Popp to seek a solution. Another property, located between the flower shop and GA Consultants, has been the subject of interest from several people, prompting him to contact the owners who have indicated they do not wish contact and are not interested in selling. Mitchell also indicated other buildings on the east side of the 100 block of N. Main Street continue to fill with junk that is visible to passersby.
The problem is one shared by many rural and urban communities alike. Mitchell contacted other city managers throughout the state, and learned about an ordinance three communities have adopted in an effort to combat this problem.
Wichita, Emporia and Russell have recently adopted Vacant Property Registration ordinances. Owners of properties that fit the description of abandoned or chronically vacant are required to register their contact and insurance information with the city so that, in the instance of disaster, fire or break-ins, officials know who to contact. These types of properties, it has been shown, attract crime, vandalism, and other things that still require police enforcement, Mitchell said.
An initial registration fee covering the first six months is charged, and to be removed from the registry, the owner must be actively marketing the property with a licensed realtor or broker, have it posted online through a reputable site and other reasonable efforts taken in order to move the property.
Karen Van Brimmer, a Hoisington patron, spoke up and asked for and was given permission to comment.
“As a representative of the owner from Manhattan, his biggest problem right now is utilities,” she said. She stated that three tenants currently reside in the building, and the utility bills were in excess of $1,500 a month.
Mitchell responded that the owner, rather than following the standard practice of splitting out each individual residence to its own meter, had chosen to keep all residences on one meter. The exchange brought forth the fact that in such an instance, the water bill is determined by the number of living units in the property.
Rather than incurring the expense in splitting the units out, the owner decided to shut the whole building down, Mitchell said.
“While we are talking about that individual, and I’m glad you brought them up, for years they have been listing the property at $240,000,” Mitchell said. Van Brimmer indicated the owner is currently working with a licensed agent and has been advised to adjust the asking price, but he does not feel he should.
“While we are on that, what’s interesting in this individual, when the county appraiser raised their values, they said “how dare you raise my values, this property isn’t worth anywhere close to what you have it appraised at.” So, interesting thing there. They can bag on the city all they want, but in this situation they are hindering the development of our community. They have taken care of the properties, so kuddos to them for that. And they’ve made some investments in our community, but I feel like their refusal to market it at a reasonable price is hurting our community right now.”
Mitchell asked if the council had any interest in having him pursue this further. Discussion touched on not only the need to take action in the business district, but also the need to address similar issues in the residential areas. As to the question at hand, council expressed interest in what results the community of Russell has experienced since it implemented their ordinance a year ago.
“I know one individual that will be extremely upset and has some resources to push back on it, but I don’t think your local folks are going to be upset about trying to fill these downtown storefronts,” Mitchell said. “I’ll do some more homework on it and keep you apprised of what I find out.”
Here is a quick look at what happened at the Hoisington city council meeting Monday night:
• Approved the consent agenda that included approval of the City Council Jan. 14 meeting minutes, appointment of Gary Smith as KRWA voting delegate for the annual meeting, and appointment of Jonathan Mitchell as KRWA alternated delegate for the annual meeting.
• Discussed the possibility of creating an ordinance concerning permitting portable storage units in the city. No action taken.
• Discussed options to address the issue of vacant properties in Hoisington’s central business district. Council indicated its desire for more information.
• Authorized the purchase of a police issue 2020 Ford Interceptor SUV with LED spotlight, wheel covers, noise suppression, lights and keyless entry for $35,943. • Authorized the purchase of a second vehicle if less than what the finalized state contract makes available later in February. Lead time will be 22 to 26 weeks.
• Heard the city manager’s update which included information concerning a number of city projects currently underway, including efforts to build a city dog park, enhancements to the auditorium, the search for a trailer for the recently purchased mini-excavator, the new benefits plan, and an update on progress leasing the Subway building.