[HISTORY: Adopted by the Board of Aldermen of the City of Melrose as indicated in article histories. Amendments noted where applicable.]
[Adopted 8-19-2019 by Order No. 2019-82]
The purposes of the Vacant Commercial Buildings Ordinance are:
To require that property owners of vacant commercial properties with visible storefronts on the ground level to submit information to the City for a centralized registry and demonstrate their efforts to maintain such properties in a manner and condition that does not detract from neighborhood integrity and vitality;
To enable the City to track and monitor vacant properties and serve as a collaborative partner to commercial property owners by opening channels of communication so that the City can better understand the nature of the vacancy and assist, as appropriate, with strategies that help the owner either tenant the space or adhere to minimum standards for the appearance and maintenance of the property while vacant; and
To promote the vibrancy of the City's commercial corridors and further elevate the City's public welfare and economic health through a vacant commercial property registry, a public art display program, and, as necessary, a fee schedule.
When used in the article, unless a contrary intention clearly appears, the following terms shall have the following meanings:
- BUILDING INSPECTOR
- The Director of Inspectional Services who supervises the Inspectional Services Department or designee.
- PLANNING DIRECTOR
- The Director of Planning and Community Development who supervises the Planning and Community Development Department or designee.
- PROPERTY OWNER
- A person or entity who alone or severally with others:
- A. Has legal or equitable title to any commercial building or has care, charge, or control of any commercial building in any capacity, including but not limited to agent, executor, executrix, administrator, adminstratrix, trustee, or guardian of the estate of the holder of legal title;
- B. Is a tenant with a legal right to possess an entire commercial building;
- C. Is a mortgagee in possession of any commercial building;
- D. Is an agent, trustee, receiver, or other person appointed by the courts and vested with possession or control of any commercial property; or
- E. Is an officer or trustee of an association of unit owners of a condominium or cooperative which contains a vacant commercial property.
- PUBLIC ART
- Works of art for public benefit and viewing, offered by the Planning Director or designee, which property owners have approved and agreed to temporarily display inside windows or upon other safe, visible exterior surfaces of vacant properties for agreed upon time periods and pursuant to such conditions as the Department of Planning and Community Development may develop.
- VACANT PROPERTY
- Any commercial real property containing a visible storefront on the ground level that is not legally occupied, is abandoned, or is not used for a period of at least 90 consecutive days and is not under active construction or undergoing active rehabilitation, renovation, or repair, subject to an active building permit, to make the building fit for occupancy. Any commercial building in which more than 1/2 of the total exterior windows or doors are broken, boarded, or open without a functioning lock shall be deemed vacant, regardless of occupancy or the existence of a building permit.
Not more than 10 days after a commercial property with a visible storefront on the ground level, or any portion or subdivision with a visible storefront on the ground level thereof, becomes vacant, the property owner shall register the vacancy with the Planning and Community Development Department and the Inspectional Services Department on forms agreed upon and provided by such departments. Upon receiving a registration, the Planning Director shall add information regarding the vacancy to an online inventory maintained by the Planning and Community Development Department. Such information shall include, but not be limited to, the address and location of the vacant property, the appropriate uses for the property pursuant to the City's zoning ordinances, the size of the available space, the desired rent, and the contact information for the property owner or person responsible for remedying the property vacancy.
Once the property is no longer vacant or is sold, the property owner shall provide written proof of lawful occupancy or sale to the Planning and Community Development Department and the Inspectional Services Department pursuant to the process outlined by such departments.
The Building Inspector shall notify the Police, Fire, Public Works, and Public Health Departments of the submitted registration of vacant property as well as the reoccupancy or sale of the property.
But for the requirements of this section, the Planning Director and the Building Inspector may jointly exempt a property owner from the provisions of this article upon the presentation of evidence, in such form as may be convincing to them, that the failure to use or occupy a building for a period in excess of 90 days does not violate the purpose or intent of this article.
At any time, a property owner of commercial property may submit information regarding the existing or anticipated availability of said commercial property to the Planning and Community Development Department and the Inspectional Services Department on the forms required for vacant properties. Upon receipt, the Planning Director shall include this information in the City's online inventory.
At the time of registration of a vacant property, a property owner shall have the opportunity to agree, in writing, to display public art in any exterior-facing window or upon other safe, visible exterior surfaces for the period of the vacancy in order to spotlight the vacant property, promote local culture, and offset any detracting aesthetic to the neighborhood caused by the vacant property. The public art display shall be granted only as sufficient public art is available and appropriate to the location for the display, and the City, artist, and owner agree to terms of exhibition as set forth by the Office of Planning and Community Development. The Department of Planning and Community Development may designate an individual or nonprofit entity with the capacity and relevant expertise to carry out and oversee the provisions of this article related to public art pursuant to a written memorandum of understanding.
If a property owner prefers not to display public art, the owner shall pay an annual vacancy fee at the time of registration to reimburse the City's administrative costs of monitoring and ensuring the security and proper maintenance of such property and to account for the negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood. The property owner shall be invoiced on an annual basis until the property is leased or sold. The annual vacancy registration fee shall be $400 annually.
Failure to pay the annual vacancy fee shall be a violation of this article, and the full fee shall be deemed an assessment resulting from a violation of this article. Such fee, and any fines issued for violations of this article, shall constitute a "municipal charges lien" on the property, to be collected in accordance with MGL c. 40, § 58.
Where there is an insufficient supply of public art such that a property owner otherwise would be required to pay the annual vacancy fee, a property owner may apply for a waiver of some or all of the vacancy fee on grounds of demonstrable financial hardship. If a waiver based on financial hardship is granted, it will be reevaluated on a quarterly basis until the property is leased or sold. If a waiver of the vacancy fee based on financial hardship is denied, the fee is due within 30 days of the decision.
The owner of a vacant property shall maintain the property in accordance with all applicable local and state sanitary codes, building codes, fire codes, and local regulations pertaining to the maintenance of the building and major system maintenance of the property.
The owner of a vacant property shall promptly repair all broken windows, doors, other openings, and any unsafe conditions at the property. Boarding up of open or broken windows and doors is prohibited unless the Building Inspector determines that, due to vandalism or security reasons and due to circumstances out of the property owner's control, the proper boarding of windows and doors is necessary.
The property owner shall maintain the building and property for the duration of the vacancy or abandonment so as to appear not to be vacant. Upon notice by the Building Inspector, any accumulated trash and/or graffiti shall be removed from the property by the property owner within seven days. The property owner of any building vacant for a period exceeding six months and whose utilities have been shut off shall have those utilities removed or cut and capped to prevent accidents.
The Building Inspector, Police Chief, Fire Chief, and Public Health Director, or their designees, shall have the authority to periodically inspect the exterior and interior of any building subject to this article for compliance, as authorized under the terms of registration form filed with the Building Inspector and Planning Director. The Building Inspector shall have the discretionary authority to disconnect utilities immediately if a potential hazard that may be dangerous to life and limb is present.
If the Building Inspector determines a commercial building to be unsafe, the Building Inspector may act immediately in accordance with the Massachusetts State Building Code to protect public safety.
The Building Inspector or designee shall enforce all provisions of this article. Any property owner found to be in violation of this article shall receive a written warning and a minimum of seven days to remedy all violations prior to the institution of any enforcement action by the Inspector. Notwithstanding the preceding sentence, failure to timely register a vacant property pursuant to § 98-3 shall be punishable by a fine of up to $100; each week that such violation continues shall be considered a separate offense.
Nothing in this article shall abrogate the powers and duties of municipal officials to act pursuant to any general statutory authority, including, without limitation, MGL c. 139, § 1 et seq., and MGL c. 143, § 1 et seq.
Compliance with this article shall not relieve a property owner of any obligations set forth in any other applicable statute, ordinance, regulation, code, covenant, or association rules and regulations. In case of a conflict with these rules and regulations, the stricter of the rules and regulations shall apply.
If any provision of this article is held to be invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction, such provision shall be considered separate and apart from the remaining provisions, which shall remain in full force and effect.