By ANDREA POTEET
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE — A proposed ordinance would institute fines for owners of vacant properties.
The fines, which would start at $500, would be the “teeth” that would prevent vacant and blighted properties from piling up in the city, Mayor Joseph Peterson said.
The ordinance, proposed by City Engineer Mark Kowalewski, is a response to the rash of show-cause hearings held recently in the city. Six such hearings have been held this year alone. Five were for houses while one concerned a garage.
“We didn’t have five show-cause hearings in five years before,” Peterson said. “Now we have five in one year.”
Since many vacant properties are bank-owned, council members said they would have to be creative in their approach to enforcing the ordiance, including writing directly to the chief executives of the banks instead of a local branch manager.
Councilwoman Sherri Sutherby Fricke said she was concerned the bank would not take threats from the city regarding their properties seriously. She also voiced concerns that fees on a vacant property could affect a new owner who purchases the home.
“It’s not our intention to prevent sales from happening,” she said. “It’s not our intention to put more costs on buyers, it’s not our intention to not assist in moving property. Our intention is to make sure these properties are maintained, and that values are held up in the neighborhood.”
Under the ordinance, the first reading of which took place Monday, owners of vacant structures must register them with the city within 45 days of receiving a notice. Those who fail to do so also can face misdemeanor charges.
“Let the bank know that we’re watching them,” Peterson said. “Let them have some kind of repercussions.”
Currently, the ordinance uses the word “owner,” but some council members said the language should be strengthened to spell out that banks, credit unions and other financial institutions are considered owners, so that they cannot claim otherwise.
Peterson said keeping a firm stance with the banks will help make relations with them easier down the road.
“Maybe when the bank sees something coming from the city of Wyandotte, they’ll say, ‘Listen, we better take care of this one,’” he said.
The council also intends to hold a seminar about foreclosure prevention to curb the amount of vacant homes in the city. Plans for the seminar have not yet been completed.
“Since we’re the one putting teeth in it, let’s make sure all our cavities are filled,” Peterson said.