Woodstock to talk distressed housing

WOODSTOCK – City officials want to talk about their options for sprucing up homes that have fallen into disrepair.

While still awaiting the effects of a new property maintenance ordinance, the City Council will hold a discussion at a to-be-determined, early-2014 meeting about how to deal with distressed housing.

Options include limiting the number of multifamily dwellings through a moratorium or a process known as “downzoning.”

Councilman Mike Turner said the discussion has grown from feedback from residents, who’ve voiced concerns about the “variability, property to property, in a given area.”

“The concerns that I was hearing were, how can we try to maintain a level of quality residences which make quality neighborhoods?” Turner said. “And what can the city do to try to guide that?”

Although current building codes and restrictions make it difficult for homeowners to convert single-family residences to multifamily apartments, some such apartments sit in otherwise single-family areas because they were converted before changes to local laws, said Cort Carlson, Woodstock director of community and economic development.

Because their owners tend to face economic challenges or view their buildings strictly as moneymakers, multifamily dwellings offer the biggest risk of maintenance neglect.

The city’s new property maintenance ordinance – passed in mid-October – gives city staff another tool in defending against that neglect, but officials are looking into further options.

One such way, arguably the most drastic, would be through “downzoning,” an involved process that could leave the city open to legal battles. The city could potentially change the zoning of areas that previously allowed several types of dwellings to single-family only. Multifamily homes would be given an amortization period to come into compliance and could be compensated by the city for the loss in value to their property.

“We’re not going to come in and make someone convert their house overnight to meet these standards,” Carlson said. “That’s all part of the discussion for council, and that’s where you get into the amortization. Is it 10 years? 20 years?”

Carlson said any specifics still would have to be worked out between the City Council, staff and legal council.

Mayor Brian Sager echoed Carlson’s point that talks are in early stages. Sager said he doesn’t expect any action in the short term. He, like Turner and Councilman Mark Saladin, said the issue provides a challenge because of a need to balance personal property rights with “the larger interest of communities and neighborhoods.”

Saladin said he is open to making changes to eliminate neighborhood eyesores but wants to take a patient approach.

“I would like to see the property maintenance ordinance get its legs underneath it and see how effective or not effective it will be,” he said.

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