Given the withdrawal of the Christy’s proposal for Route 6A, I have received a number of inquiries about the impacts of vacant buildings on neighborhoods. The issue also came up again at today’s State of the Town Forum.
While people in town really do not have to look very far for an example (the former A&P site and any number of additional sites in Dennisport) nationally there are a variety of reports on “vacant building syndrome.” The following provides some snippets from the experience of others.
- Palm Springs, CA: “”a single run-down vacant building can lead to blight throughout a neighborhood.” Councilman Steve Pougnet.
- Battle Creek, MI: “They haunt business districts all over Battle Creek – some hollow-eyed and vacant for years, another still in operation but bleeding building-code violations from its empty upper floors.”
“They’re vacant commercial spaces, phantoms of better days that weigh on their neighbors’ property values and business traffic long after their owners gave up the ghost.”
“But as one prolonged struggle to demolish a commercial relic proved, exorcising eyesores is not for the faint of heart.”
- Concord CA: “”Over the past several years, the City has experienced an increase in demand for services due to problems associated with vacant buildings, both commercial and residential, that remain in disuse over extended periods of time. Services have ranged from responding to complaints regarding such buildings being an eyesore, to numerous calls to the Police Department in response to transients accessing the buildings, to the vacant buildings creating a harbor for criminal activities including drug use, to calls for nuisance code enforcement due to the neglected conditions of the building and property. When a vacant building burns, sometimes caused by those who have illegally accessed the building, public safety and adjacent properties are endangered and a significant public service response is required from the Fire District and from the City.”
The National Vacant Properties Campaign report “Vacant Properties The True Cost to Communities” provides more highlights of the impacts:
- “A study in Austin, Texas found that “blocks with unsecured [vacant] buildings had 3.2 times as many drug calls to police, 1.8 times as many theft calls, and twice the number of violent calls” as blocks without vacant buildings.”
- “More than 12,000 fires break out in vacant structures each year in the US, resulting in $73 million in property damage annually. Most are the result of arson.”
- “Over the past five years, St. Louis has spent $15.5 million, or nearly $100 per household, to demolish vacant buildings. Detroit spends $800,000 per year and Philadelphia spends $1,846,745 per year cleaning vacant lots.”
- “A 2001 study in Philadelphia found that houses within 150 feet of a vacant or abandoned property experienced a net loss of $7,627 in value.”
These problems are not just experienced in large cities, over the past year there were a number of complaints about the look of the vacant Mobil Station; the dirt blowing off of the property; the chain used to block the driveway, etc. These complaints are small compared to the issues in Dennisport where the former A&P structure has stood vacant for five years. On this site the building has had windows broken; the locks on the doors forced out; and the building tagged on many occasions. The parking lot also has not been properly maintained, with the storm drains not cleared for at least the time period since the last tenant was present in the building. This latter problem has had a direct impact on the DPW budgets in both Dennis and Harwich, as the storm water from the site is no longer captured on the property, but rather run-off to the adjacent streets.
As problems rise with these vacant properties, property tax revenues also drop. Commercial properties are not assessed by Dennis in the same manner as a single family home. According to the Dennis Assessor’s Office, a portion of a commercial properties value is based upon sales information. The loss of sales, such as in the case of the A&P or the Mobil Station, directly impact the taxes paid by other properties.
Vacant and boarded up buildings also mean a loss of jobs. The A&P once employed as many as 30- 40 people in Dennisport. The closure of Blockbuster and the Mobil Station also meant the loss of jobs. These people are, or were, our neighbors. They shopped in our stores and lived in our neighborhoods. When these buildings are vacated, and not reused, the jobs are lost forever. The people who worked in those jobs then compete with the rest of the town for a lesser number of similar job opportunities.
Vacant buildings also impact the perception of an area, whether you are talking Dennis Village, Dennisport or New Bedford or Holyoke. People, especially potential investors in a community do not like to see boarded up buildings. A boarded up building is a sign of a sick economy. People do not know if the boarded up building is the sign of a downward trend for the area or an anomoly. The presence of a boarded up building has a drag on the value of what surrounds it.
Just look again at Dennisport. For years we have been saying that the A&P Building was a drag on the vitality of th neighborhood. The building does not attract shoppers to the village (drag number 1). The building is an eyesore in its current condition (drag number 2). The building draws the wrong element to the neighborhood (drag number 3). The boarded up building has impacted the value, and reinvestment value of surrounding buildings (drag number 4).
Following the A&P, the village lost the tenants in the Keefe Block, he was hopeful of redeveloping the site, but unfortunately the value of the village was impacted by the neighboring large vacant retail structure and fears by banks to invest in a neighborhood that had such a large vacancy. The Keefe Block vacancies were followed by the closure of the Blockbuster Video Store and the collapse of the former Henderson’s Hardware Store. The reuse of each of these buildings are impacted by the ever growing vacancy rates in the village
In Dennis Village, the Mobil Station vacancy could be viewed as an aberration, or it could be the beginning of a downward spiral. To an outside observer, the boarded up building will adversely impact their image of the Village.
In a post on the Economic Development Blog I have started a discussion on the strengths of each of the Villages. The Dennisport discussion can be found here.
As a town we must pull together and tackle the problems being created by vacant boarded up buildings. Returning these properties to active commercial use is in the best interest of everyone in the town. Vacant buildings are not a parochial village issue, but a town wide issue that needs to be tackled regardless of the village with the vacant buildings.