Oregon City wants to tackle chronically abandoned buildings

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Happy Valley’s code provides inspiration for dangerous buildings that attract fires and nuisance complaints

PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN – Patrick Shea, 73, died in a fire on Oct.11 near Molalla Avenue, a major corridor through Oregon City. Commissioners are discussing ways to discourage dozens of dangerous buildings identified over the past decade.

PORTLAND, Oregon (Portland Tribune) – Oregon City commissioners seek inspiration on how to deal with chronically abandoned buildings in Happy Valley.

Elected officials discussed this month how multiple abandoned homes have led to burned-out buildings and eyesores along key corridors in Oregon City. Since 2014, the city has labeled 26 buildings as “dangerous”, an average of more than three times a year.

City commissioners complained about how many of these dangerous and abandoned buildings can remain “under construction” for over a decade, attracting tramps and generating hundreds of complaints from neighbors annually. Most recently, a house on the corner of Molalla Avenue and Beverly Drive burned on October 11, killing Patrick Shea, 73.

Commissioner Denyse McGriff said that the Oregon City code needs to be “spiced up” to enforce “demolition by neglect” if properties have been abandoned for more than five years, unless extenuating circumstances exist.

“We need to be more assertive and aggressive and either fix the problem or it’s gone,” said McGriff. “Maybe someone will come by and do something better with the package than leave it at a junk building.”

Happy Valley requires owners of abandoned residential properties and vacant foreclosed homes to register with the city and pay a $ 100 fee designed to encourage property owners to keep property use active. This registration fee increases by $ 100 each year for four years and maintains the $ 400 fee for each year thereafter.

Ryan Kersey recently took over the helm of Oregon City Code Enforcement after spending several years overseeing code enforcement, animal control and crime prevention in Happy Valley. In the near future, Kersey is expected to speak to Oregon City commissioners using the lessons learned from his time in Happy Valley. Long-time Oregon City Code Enforcement Manager Nancy Busch recently retired.

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James Graham, Oregon City director of economic development, said commercial real estate should be included in the new chronic vacancy fines.

“I would encourage the Commission to consider a broader scope than just a building with structural flaws, but also buildings that just don’t work from an economic point of view,” said Graham. “Before you have Broken Window Syndrome and all that, maybe there is a way to get the business owner to sell the building by fines or whatever, maybe even for urban renewal, maybe to the city. ”

The commissioners discussed citizen complaints about departmental “silos” that allegedly fail to coordinate the efforts of city workers. To deal with abandoned buildings, various Oregon City departments – including Public Works, Construction, Engineering, Code Enforcement, and OCPD – often coordinate efforts not to send individual letters to the same property for the same issues.

“I know from my own experience that our Code has these disruptive factors,” said Commissioner Frank O’Donnell.

Commissioner Rocky Smith, who has long campaigned for the city to restore the Ermatinger home to its current use as a public museum, said the city should give its opinion on the properties it owns.

“That’s super hypocritical, and if the city doesn’t care about its own buildings, we shouldn’t be talking about other people’s buildings,” said Smith. “I know of several buildings in Oregon City that have not been worked on in decades, such as the Ermatinger House, which was neglected for 20 years in the making of the city, and another house that we own on Jackson Street.”

Mayor Rachel Lyles Smith agreed that city-owned land is still being neglected, saying that any new abandoned building regulations should be “really aware” to respect people’s private property rights.


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