Skip to main content

Last night was disappointing to the many who support the vacant commercial building ordinance.  With over 60 vacant buildings in our economic corridor the city leadership passed on an opportunity to make a bold statement for the city’s future. Communities with similar issues and comparable demographics have taken the initiative to implement similar ordinances and have achieved award winning success.

Here are some of the keys issues as I see them:

I’m curious how our first responders feel about the possibility of responding to a fire. Do they know the layout of the structures,? Do they know what is stored there and how to keep their personnel safe when responding?  How do we protect the existing business without foreknowledge and planning.  The ordinance has a mechanism in place that provides this information with a requirement to give first responders the information they need and periodic inspections the assure nothing has changed.  The cost of this is carried by the property owner.  Once the building is back in commerce these fees go away.

How deteriorated are the buildings? How do we know if they are still safe? We could rely on the words of the property owners or we can require inspections to assure that these buildings are maintained.  It has been stated our code enforcement personnel do not have adequate staffing to perform these inspections.  The fee structure of the ordinance provides for a qualified third party inspection and reporting.  This would give city leadership and first responders the information it’s needs to make informed decisions and assurances to the public that these structures are safe and secure.

During both the committee meeting and the council meeting it was stated that  property owners, code enforcement and council members were not consulted for their feedback on the ordinance.  

Let’s address the property owners first.  Seems to me that asking for their feedback is a little like inviting the foxes into the henhouse.  The property owners want to maximize the amount of money they can make off the property and we would love to see them do that, it is in everyone’s best interest.  I feel we are stuck in a game of chicken,  who is going to make the first move to sell, lease and how can the property owners maximize on that information.  Until someone makes the first move the buildings will remain idle, the properties will continue to cost these owners a minimal amount and the community will continue to languish.

Let’s talk about the council role. Owners have been vocal about their concerns both publicly and privately to city leadership. Community members have been vocal about the need for change and more progressive leadership. The council has the ability to take a strong leadership position by addressing the concerns of both sides by presenting amendments to the ordinance or drafting their own.  It is their responsibility as community leaders to weigh both the community and the property owners needs to arrive at a solution to move our city forward.  I encourage each council member to step up, vocalize your issues and put forth solutions. 

Just to be clear, from the time this ordinance is adopted to the time when the fee and fine structure is in place is 18 months.  That is a lot of time for both property owners and leadership to  make adjustments.  

The city has a master plan, but a plan is only as good as it’s implementation.  Incremental change is necessary based on that vision.  Holding the course with the courage of convictions is going to be hard.  Change will not happen without vision and leadership, doing the same thing over and over expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

I would be glad to work with any interested party to help find an equitable solution.

Gretchen Erlingson
Opelousas, LA