With the Milton Theatre sold and possibly reopening in the near future, Milton Town Council is turning its attention to the other vacant downtown buildings.
At its May 13 meeting, council asked its town solicitor to draft an ordinance that would urge landlords to rent their buildings or suffer consequences. Economic Development Committee member Michael Clark said Milton could base its ordinance on laws already on the books in Wilmington, Smyrna and New Castle. The latter, he said, is comparable to Milton in terms of a historic district and has very specific laws on the books for vacant buildings.
“If we're looking to improve our downtown area, something needs to be done,” said Clark, who also serves on the board of the Milton Chamber of Commerce. “We're asking you to think about how to do that.”
In New Castle, the city implemented an annual registration of vacant buildings. The city defined a vacant building as any building that has been empty for more than 45 consecutive days. The code applies to commercial and residential property.
Through the registration, city officials are able to track properties and assess an annual fee to its owners. For properties vacant one to two years, the owner is billed $500; two to three years, $1,000; three to five years, $2,000; and if a property remains empty for more than 10 years, a $5,000 charge is levied annually on the owner.
Smyrna has a similar code for vacant buildings with slightly different registration fees.
“We've looked at the code and charter and it does address certain things about vacant buildings, but there is nothing there that addresses what to do about a building that sits empty, like Jailhouse Antiques, for four, five, maybe six years,” Clark said.
Jailhouse Antiques, on Union Street next to the Milton Theatre, has been at the center of the vacant building discussion for a number of years. During his term as mayor, Cliff Newlands said he was aware there was interest in renting the storefront, but the owners would not entertain offers.
Passing an ordinance that would attach fees to unoccupied buildings, Clark said, could motivate landlords to rent their properties.
Council unanimously voted to task Thompson with drafting an ordinance to address the concerns. If town council is not satisfied with the draft, Town Manager Win Abbott suggested it be sent to the charter and ordinance committee for further work.