(St. Joseph,MO) If you look around town vacant homes aren’t difficult to spot, they’re easily identified with overgrown lawns, boarded up doors and shattered windows. Monday evening the St.Joseph Landmark Commission met in a work session with the City Council to discuss the growing number of vacant properties around the city.
Isobel McGowan, Chair of the Landmark Commission, said the number of vacant properties is on the rise and it’s causing big problems for some of St.Joseph’s historic neighborhoods.
"Vacant buildings create a nuisance for neighbors; they can create a risk for first responders; they can create fire danger that create risk for other buildings.They blighted streetscapes,[and cause] the reduction in property values. There is a whole host of things the vacant buildings in St.Joseph [that]create those kind of problems,”McGowan said.
The commission helped brainstorm several options including suggesting the city create a Land Bank to clear out abandoned properties.
"The idea is to create a clearing house for the unwanted properties that blight our city scape," McGowan said
The creation of a Land Bank would require state approval in the next legislative session and then approval from Buchanan County. A Land Bank allows the city to obtain vacant properties, renovate them to sell or sell them off as is to buyers looking to invest in restoring the unmaintained property.
"Rather than just selling to the highest bidder, to seek responsible owners. People that have the right model in mind to take on a vacant property, a vacant building or a vacant plot of land with a vision for how it can become and asset to the city," McGowan said.
Councilman Madison Davis said it’s not only important to have the properties maintained, but to have them occupied.
“I think the main goal of everyone is to find a way to revitalize neighborhoods that may have lost what they were at one time,” Davis said. “The main thing is to find out how we can get those neighborhoods and those homes and those properties back up to, not necessarily just code, but where they are a positive benefit for the rest of the neighborhoods in St.Joseph.”
The council also considered creating a permit system for people maintaining vacant property as a means of keeping owners motivated to maintain vacant buildings and lots.
“We’ve got to find a way to incentivize citizens to maintain their properties in the way they should. People have things that they need to do and not everyone has time, but those are things that greatly affect the quality of life of people in St.Joseph,” Davis said.
McGowan said the meeting is just the first step in cleaning up neighborhoods in St.Joseph.
"I hope that it will stimulate a conversation between city council and city staff, in terms of putting some realy programs in place; getting started on some real strategic thinking in terms of addressing this problem," McGowan said.