Maybe it’s time to amend the laws to state that a problematic property owner must either sell or develop neglected buildings? For years we’ve seen our fair share of buildings lost to ‘demolition by neglect’ practices. And most every instance the building could have been saved. But for some reason, there is no way to force a building owner to ‘s@#t or get off the pot’. Yes, pressure can be applied by issuing citations and fines, which occasionally lead to court appearances, and that is what we’re seeing here with the “next edition saga between Judge Carney, housing court, and the owner of the Cobblestone District’s at-risk blacksmith shop building, owned by Darryl Carr.”
Carr’s next appearance in housing court is scheduled for this coming Thursday, October 19 at 9:30 am at the Buffalo City Court Building on the 6th floor, Part 14. This particular court appearance could be the result of “failure to properly stabilize the building, specifically complying with the City Charter’s provision for mothballing a vacant structure,” as noted by a BRO reader who has been following the case. This same reader passed along an email from a Housing Court representative detailing the matter:
In regards to this property, we have asked for jail numerous times over the years as a sentence for Mr. Carr. This is at least the third Housing Court case brought against Mr. Carr in my tenure with two Judges in Housing court. Clearly, the Inspections Dept. is not shy in bringing Mr. Carr to Court.
Also, in approximately 2010, the Supreme Court of NYS issued an order that this property CANNOT BE DEMOLISHED by the City or the owner, in a totally separate proceeding from the Housing Court action. Of course, the Supreme Court action trumps any action by City Court.
Because of that Order, which exists in perpetuity, we cannot demolish (even if we wanted to). It is because of this, that we have agreed to minimal code compliance for the building to prevent any hazard to the surrounding community. The City cannot force anyone to develop or occupy any building, but the City Charter does have a provision for “Mothballing” a vacant structure. It is under this understanding that the previous Housing Court case was resolved – that Mr. Carr stabilize the building and regularly maintain while we all sit and wait for him to reuse or rehab. It is because of his LACK of adherence to that agreement on the second Housing Court case, that we brought a third – which is currently moving through Housing Court.
At some point, a City Charter provision was drafted, requiring a property owner to mothball a vacant structure to prevent any hazards to the surrounding community. Why can’t an amendment be added that would force the hand of a delinquent property owner to fix up or to sell? We could be looking at dealing with a mothballed building in the heart of the Cobblestone District until the end of time.
In other words, would this be just cause for Eminent Domain, in which the owner of the property is fairly compensated for the building, and the property no longer sits as a thorn in the side of the community? Think about all of the buildings that we would still have with us today, including St. Mary’s on The Hill, Bethlehem Steel Administration building (in Lackawanna), Harbor Inn, etc. Some might say that this type of action is a slippery slope, but what the heck are the options? Sometimes hitting the wallet can be a better strategy, so why not fine the crap out of building owners? Because, as we have seen time and time again, if a building is ‘properly’ mothballed, there’s nothing that can be done. In some desperate cases, the building owners have knocked down the structures during “off hours”. The result? A minimal fine and a slap on the wrist. For a developer, that’s nothing. And that what the city is left with… nothing.