RDA talks future endeavors

Where will the City of Warren Redevelopment Authority spend its energy moving forward and where will city staff correspondingly spend their time?

That was a question discussed during Wednesday’s meeting.

Director of Codes, Permitting and Recreation Services Terry Williams said staff would like to initiate a conversation with the RDA and the Blight Property Review Committee “about the types of properties (you are) looking to have come your way” and the “types of projects (you are) willing to be involved in.”

There are numerous options – property acquisition for the purpose of demolition, conservatorship where the RDA doesn’t own but can address problem properties, low-interest commercial loans, etc.

“We just need some direction at some point,” Williams said, “about where you would like the efforts of the staff to be directed.”

“Where is it that you’re looking to expend your energy and our time,” she added.

Authority member David Cantrell noted that “low-interest loans could be helpful if the person does follow through.”

Department of Public Works Director Mike Holtz said that the loans could be paid out as reimbursement. “We can be the bridge loan,” he added.

Authority member Marty McQuillan noted that the RDA has been “pretty successful with the loan fund” and City Planner David Hildebrand noted that the Northwest Commission offers loan funding as well.

“They do provide loans through several counties,” Hildebrand said. “That might be something in the future to utilize funding they have (and) funding we have.”

He added that the RDA has given out loans and “a lot of them have been successful.”

Holtz noted those were large loans – $100,000 and above – while Williams noted that the current items that “have come to us are less than $100,000.”

Authority member Chuck Gray asked about the degree to which the city’s housing stock matches current needs.

“Will we always have a surplus of deteriorating property because the demand is not there” Gray asked.

Williams said the city and school district are working in that vein with the county on a residential tax abatement program “to try to encourage new development in the city with some of these empty lots we have seen accumulate over time.”

She also said that Hildebrand is looking at potential zoning changes that “would allow some of these odd-shaped, very small lots” to be built on. “(We are) looking to find ways to help people over some of those obstacles.”

Williams explained that currently “there’s a lot of blight just because it’s been so long since we’ve aggressively reviewed what we had and tried to engage the community in trying to alleviate” blight. “Once we get a handle on that, (we) shouldn’t accumulate so much blight in the future,” suggesting that property maintenance enforcement will help those efforts.

“There are specific cases where bringing it (a structure) black is not an option,” she said, talking about the potential to recycle lots with new development. “I think we should try everything to do that.”

Authority member Matthew Schlotzhauer asked if the city communicates with adjacent property owners to see if there’s an interest in an adjacent parcel if the city demolished a blighted structure.

“Sometimes that works out,” Cantrell said. “We’ve tried that. I’m a big fan of not knocking down unless we really have to.”

“The problem with a lot of these properties,” Code Official Jessica Roudybush said, is owners that have walked away, are deceased or are “out of the picture for whatever reason.”

She said those individuals have properties that are “not bad enough to demolish” but noted the community has a “lack of people with the time and money to invest and rehabilitate. We just don’t have that resource, those people. We do end up demolishing (because we) don’t have any other options.”