AMHERST - Amherst may soon have another weapon to use with vacant, derelict properties throughout the community.
Town council has passed first reading of a new vacant buildings bylaw and could be in a position to enact it as its November council session.
"What the bylaw will do is allow council to set a time limit on how long a building can be boarded up," town planner Jason MacDonald said. "If it exceeds that period and the owner refuses to remove the window covering then council may begin an expropriation process."
As part of the town's beautification strategy, council asked staff to look into enacting a vacant buildings bylaw to deal not only with a number of boarded up buildings in the downtown, but to give it power to act with buildings in any part of the town.
The vacant building bylaw gives the town another tool it can use when dealing with these buildings. MacDonald cautioned that while the town will have the power to act, the town is not about to get in the real estate market.
"In most cases the town probably won't (purchase vacant buildings). It's another option to go after the unsightly premises issue," he said.
Under the present bylaws the town only has the power to order property owners to fix up their derelict buildings and properties. There is no option for the town to take them over if it feels the need arises.
The decision to acquire a building always rests with council.
"Acquiring a building is always a last resort. The town would prefer to work with a building owner to fix it up," MacDonald said. "Sometimes though they will fix up a building and three years later we're back at them again because it has been allowed to deteriorate again."
Under the proposed bylaw, no building can be boarded up for more than six consecutive months. The town can apply to the Supreme Court for an injunction ordering the building owner to fix the property, or it may exercise its rights under the bylaw to acquire the property.
MacDonald stressed that just because the town is considering the bylaw doesn't mean there's a big concern with vacant buildings. He said there aren't many empty buildings in the community and it has not been a big issue. Still, the bylaw gives the town some more power to act in problem areas.