Chapel Hill News

Carrboro aldermen postpone vacant building vote

The Board of Aldermen on Tuesday delayed a vote on requiring maintenance and upkeep of vacant commercial buildings after a local business owner raised concerns that the proposed ordinance was too broad.

A representative for Calvin Mellott, owner of Mellott Contracting, told the board the ordinance, meant to prevent urban blight, could be applied against unintended targets, including what attorney David Brooks described as a single empty shed on an otherwise active commercial site on Jones Ferry Road.

“If you were to adopt this ordinance tonight, tomorrow morning (Mellott) would have a vacant building,” Brooks said.

He urged the board to reconsider language in the ordinance defining what constitutes active use of a property.

“I understand that you have something in mind that you’re trying to do, but you’re using an awfully large bat,” he said. “We’re concerned that we ought to reflect on how to narrow the tools that we’re using to get at what you really want to do, otherwise you’re creating a staff member who is going to be the czar of the storage sheds in Carrboro.”

The aldermen originally drafted the vacant building ordinance to try to break the stalemate between town leaders and the owners of the property at the corner of North Greensboro and West Weaver streets.

Revco purchased three parcels there in 2010, but later abandoned plans to build a 24-hour CVS pharmacy on the site following public outcry over potential traffic, noise and light pollution. Activists briefly occupied a building there in 2012, prompting the property owners to board up the windows and erect a chain link fence.

Behind the sagging fence, a former bank building and a small house have sat crumbling for years. Mayor Lydia Lavelle said efforts to communicate with the owners have proven futile.

“The last three summers, I’ve tried to talk to CVS,” said Lavelle. “I asked them to come back, I asked them to talk to us. We’ve offered to tear it down, lease it. We’re reaching out.”

Board members expressed frustration with the drawn out process and lack of communication. Mayor Pro Tem Michelle Johnson said she’s fielded a slew of complaints from Carrboro residents.

“This is in response to many people complaining about this property, and part of the complaint has to do with where this property is,” said Johnson. “It is falling apart and it is ugly; it’s an eyesore and it’s in the middle of downtown.”

The last three summers, I’ve tried to talk to CVS. I asked them to come back, I asked them to talk to us. We’ve offered to tear it down, lease it. We’re reaching out.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle

If the ordinance is approved, town leaders will have new tools to deal with dilapidated properties anywhere in Carrboro. The ordinance details standards of maintenance for roofing, entrances, bathrooms, utilities and landscaping, among other provisions. Owners of buildings found to be out of compliance will have the option to repair, sell, or demolish the structure. If they fail to take action within two years, town officials can step in.

Town Attorney Nick Harman told board members the ordinance grants owners ample opportunity to appeal along the way.

“There are so many levels here to sort out disputes, or problems, or even rectify the problems early, before you get to something like demolition,” he said.

The new rules would only apply to nonresidential properties, with special protections in place for historic structures and industrial or manufacturing sites.

Board members on Tuesday agreed to postpone a vote in order to refine the definition of active use on a property. Some, including Damon Seils and Bethany Chaney, urged staff to consider the concerns raised by Mellott, but be wary of opening loopholes that could be exploited by unscrupulous property owners.

The board will revisit the ordinance on Tuesday.