Special Services Director B.J. Owen provided city council members with an unsafe structure removal update Tuesday during a city council meeting.

He said several abandoned properties had been removed since his last update to the council.

Properties on Hwy. 31, Knowles Street, Walnut Street and Angeline Street declared unsafe by the city have now been removed. Additionally, the Sud Shed on Hwy. 31 is in the process of being removed.

Owen said, in the process of removing unsafe structures, city workers were also keeping an eye on empty or unused properties which don’t meet the definition of “unsafe.”

“While we’re doing this, we’re finding, well, this building isn’t falling down but it’s empty. What do we do about that? It raises some questions and you start looking in the code. Property maintenance codes always require that a building either be vacant or occupied.

He added a building which is considered occupied doesn’t necessarily have to have people working in it as long as it’s being used for something.

“We send out letters to on empty commercial properties that appear vacant. Vacant means empty, secure and not being used. We’re going to ask building owners on how they want to use the building.”

Owen displayed several slides for council members of buildings which the city was following up on to determine their use and status.

The problem of empty buildings with unclear uses is a city-wide issue.

“It’s not just a downtown issue. This is throughout town,” Owen said, displaying images of buildings on Hwy. 135, Gladewater Street and Main Street.

Understanding how buildings are being used helps the city make sure properties have the proper designations and certificates.

“Are they vacant? Are they empty? Are they being used? We’re not really sure. We want that decision to be made by that building owner. That’s their decision. If it’s vacant, let’s make it empty, secure and no utilities connected so we don’t have to worry about it. If it’s occupied, either by bookshelves, books or your car, there’s a certificate of occupancy for that. Codes allow us to work with you to use it that way.”

The city also has to consider zoning restrictions when issuing certificates of occupancy. For example, Owen said, a building used for storing dangerous or explosive materials may not be allowed in certain zones.

Keeping building classifications and certificates up-to-date is an ongoing process, Owen said, but it is vital for making sure buildings which need to be removed can be removed and buildings which are in use are properly registered.

“Without this process, we’re never in an opportunity to talk to (building owners).”

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