Building Codes to Deal With Abandoned Big Boxes

Today from the Streetsblog Network, a report from Charlotte, N.C., on the city's efforts to deal with derelict big box stores. Mary Newsom at The Naked City reports that a proposed new building code to address the problem is in the works:

blog_uptons.jpgAn abandoned store in Charlotte, NC.
The issue is important for neighborhoods where retailers have left buildings behind and the buildings sit, empty, for months. (Take a look at the photo at right, of the old Albemarle Road Upton's, built in 1978, photo taken in May.) Sometimes the vacancy occurs because a retail chain goes belly up; other times the company opens a new store, typically on a suburban greenfield site, and leaves the older building. Those vacant and decaying stores have the effect of signaling to other retailers: "Don't move here, retail doom awaits!" And the aura of decay can send a clear signal to other potential investors, too, of an area in decline.…

To their credit, the city planners have begun pushing developers of new big box stores to agree to language in the rezoning agreement that puts some requirements on the retailer if the store goes vacant: keep up the building, help market it to new tenants, don't put a noncompete clause on the property. But that doesn't give the city any leverage against abandoned commercial properties built without any such requirements.

The city currently requires vacant nonresidential properties to be secure. The new code would extend to occupied buildings, and would require properties to be sanitary and safe, too. It would require property owners to maintain exterior walls, roofs, windows, etc. Broken windows and doors, holes in roofs and walls, garbage on the site and rodent or insect infestations would be potential violations. Near as I can tell, there's very little opposition to it from anywhere, so it should pass easily in a few weeks.

Anyone out there know of other communities with similar ordinances? It seems they would create some disincentive for the type of slash-and-burn development Newsom mentions, where retailers abandon old sites in favor of new ones further out in the suburbs, leaving behind a desolated landscape.

More from around the network: California High Speed Rail Blog weighs in on the issue of how to price high-speed rail travel. St. Louis Urban Workshop looks at Missouri's $4 billion road project and how it would be funded (a sales tax?). And the Chicago Bicycle Advocate links to a video on bikes and the law created as a training aid for the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Department of Transportation.