Mason City council approves final reading of ordinance establishing vacant building registration requirements

MASON CITY — The City Council in Mason City last night on final reading approved an ordinance establishing requirements for the registration of vacant commercial and industrial buildings.

Under the ordinance, if a building is being actively marketed or if an owner provides proof of an imminent sale or lease, it is exempt from the registration requirement. City staff drafted the ordinance after looking at similar ordinances throughout the state and realizing the negative impacts of vacant commercial and industrial structures on surrounding buildings. The fees rise each year a building is vacant, with an initial fee of $250 for the first year, $500 the second year, and $750 for the third year and each year thereafter.

Councilman John Lee says it’s time for the city to address the issue.  “We do have people that are sitting on properties that are not marketing them, not trying to do anything with them, and this is trying to encourage them to. I think Mr. Burnett said it correctly, there’s a lot of ways, not to avoid, but not to be fined, the $250, then $500, then $750. Marketing it, working on construction, so I think there’s a lot of ways.”

Lee says he’s willing to reexamine the ordinance after it’s been established for a while, but he says something needs to be done.  “You know as well as I know, there are a lot of buildings in this town that are sitting empty, and they aren’t being marketed, they are not being fixed, they are not being taken care of, and that is a problem in this community. I do support this. I think we could look at it in six months or a year, come back, we can talk and say how can this be better, but I do think as written, it’s worth an attempt at looking at how this can help some issues that we have in this community.”

Building owner Jeff Tierney objected to the ordinance.  “We already get to pay to have them. We’re already paying taxes, we’re already paying insurance, we’re already paying upkeep, we’re trying to keep on them. We normally buy them for the opportunity if somebody comes along and wants something here, we say we have this. I have that a lot where people just say we’re looking for this, but you have to have it in inventory. This just seems like one more hurdle to put in front of us and say ‘hey we don’t want to buy these buildings, let’s just have the city keep them or tear them down or whatnot’. It just doesn’t make any sense to me to have that as another hurdle to put in front of us.”

Tierney says if he wants to lease a long-term vacant building, he doesn’t like that he would have to list the lease price.  “Also, I have to do it in market value. I don’t like to tell people what I lease properties for. They’re all over the place in Mason City. We don’t get our door beat down constantly with people wanting to get into these buildings. When we get somebody, we’re flexible, we work with them, we try to make it so it’s appealing to them. We’re going to set something in stone here saying nope you’ve got to do it this way? Really there’s a lot on this that just really I think we need to think about. It’s not helping our community grow.”

The council unanimously passed the ordinance on all three readings.