It is, indeed, unfortunate that some property owners in Wendell have become recalcitrant about taking care of their downtown buildings.
That fact has town commissioners talking about what to do to encourage or force property owners to improve the safety, appearance and soundness of their buildings.
The lack of care for these buildings is hard to explain. Each property owner likely has a different perspective and a different set of challenges. For some, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. They may disagree with the town’s position that a building is unsightly or in need of aesthetic improvements. That is an area in which reasonable people can disagree.
For others, they may wish to make improvements to their property, but lack the financial resources to do so.
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Still others may take an “I-don’t-care” attitude about the entire matter and be of a mind that they will no longer invest any resources in their downtown property until they are forced to do so.
Whatever the reason for the problems, it’s hard to tell in a routine windshield tour of downtown Wendell that there is much amiss.
When you get out of your car, though, and walk along Main Street and Third Street, you begin to see the empty store fronts and the peeling paint. It becomes a less inviting place and that’s not what town leaders want. It’s not what downtown merchants want either.
The town has two approaches it can take. Director of Planning David Bergmark referred to them as the carrot and the stick. To date, the town has chosen to take the carrot approach. They town has taken on municipal projects to improve sidewalks and crossings. They have provided cash incentives for projects that improve the downtown appearance. In many cases, a rash of improvements by the private sector cascades into efforts by other property owners to do the same. It’s sort of the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality.
Town leaders have had no trouble attracting applicants for downtown facade grants. In fact there have been more applicants than available funds. That says to us that the carrot approach is having its intended effect. It’s a slow process given the amount of resources the town has at its disposal.
At some point, though, the carrots will no longer work and town leaders may find themselves in need of a stick. Bergmark told commissioners last week that the town’s options are limited.
But they can work with the Wake County Inspections Office to more vigorously enforce the laws that govern building safety. Perhaps the inspections department might consider taking on a Wendell blitz to examine several of the downtown properties all in one big exercise as a way to send a message to building owners who would wag their finger in the face of authority. That might at least send a message to property owners that the town intends to make improvements in downtown even if they have to drag naysayers kicking and screaming along the way