The City of Washington is looking to address vacant by choice buildings in town. These are structures that are sitting empty or being used as storage, instead of being the home of a business or residence. The issue was discussed at Tuesday’s Washington City Council meeting. Jaron Rosien said there are several of these buildings in the downtown area, and he hopes the conversation spurs change, “I know some of them would have to be implemented by council ordinance change. One stick would be we have an ordinance that is specific to signage. And that could be utilized in the case of a building that has signage up that is no longer operating. However, I also think for what it’s worth, my opinion is at least beginning this conversation brings some awareness, brings it up for the community as a whole, and maybe it would stir some action without having to take a harder action. At least having this conversation is going to bring additional awareness.”

City Administrator Brent Hinson said there are people willing to rent space either for a business or a residence, but they’ve been told no by property owners. The city currently has a dangerous building ordinance and rental inspections. Possible options mentioned were implementing inspections of vacant buildings to measure their safety, or a registry of empty by choice buildings.

Council member Brendan DeLong recommended starting with the square and then branching out. He said commercial and residential buildings should be kept separate. Council member Steve Gault agreed commercial and residential properties should be dealt with on different terms but said it should include all commercial structures in city limits. He cited the former calendar factory’s declining condition as an example of this problem.

Council member Danielle Pettit-Majewski said they should keep in mind the housing shortage in the area as they consider options.

Local realtor Charla Howard said she’s glad the council is looking at this, “When we did the whole downtown revitalization, we all saw what improvements trickled through the community. We’ve seen older homes getting remodeled. Homes are getting flipped, they’re getting reoccupied. It brings a better quality of life to the community. And I agree that if we can continue to push on these vacant buildings, first of all on the main part of the square, trickle it out to the super-square, it will trickle through the community just like the downtown revitalization did. I like that we’re talking about this. I think it’s a big deal. And I really feel like you guys have the capacity, and I don’t want to use the word power, but you have the power to make this happen. And I look forward to seeing how it happens. Being in the line of work that I’m in I feel like it needs to happen, so thank you.”

City staff will further research the issue and possible approaches, and then will bring that information back to the council for consideration.