A pedestrian passes one of several vacant properties in downtown Amherst. The town is expecting to receive a proposal for a new vacant buildings bylaw that should force the owners of vacant buildings to either fix them up, remove them or sell them to the town at market value. Darrell Cole - Amherst Daily News
AMHERST - The town may be about to get tough with the owners of several vacant downtown properties.
Amherst town council is expected to receive a proposed vacant buildings bylaw at its June session in hopes of spurring those who own empty and derelict buildings into action.
"We have to do something and we're hoping these people will either fix them up or tear them down," Coun. Terry Rhindress said. "One of our strategic priorities is the beautification of the community, but how can we do that when there are still a number of vacant buildings in the downtown?"
Rhindress has long asked for a stronger response from the town about a number of empty buildings in the downtown core. He said the old police station at the corner of LaPlanche and Victoria, the former Bird's Drapery Building and the old legion building have been allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair that they may fall down before they're removed or restored.
Several years ago, the town looked at the number of vacant buildings in the downtown area and found there wasn't much they could do to force the owners to fix them up. Many of the buildings are owned by Halifax area businessperson Alex Tang and have been for sale for a couple of years.
Jason MacDonald, the town's director of planning services, said his staff was asked by council to look at a bylaw that would force those who own the vacant buildings to act.
The town's case was recently given more authority by a provincial law that gives municipalities the power to force building owners to bring them up to a standard or remove them. Municipalities also have the power to purchase the buildings at their market value.
"Because of the vacant buildings downtown and council's priority with beautification asked us to look into that type of a bylaw," MacDonald said. "We are working on a draft for their review."
Downtown Amherst Revitalization Society chair Beth Munroe is encouraged the town is taking a look at the issue.
"It's encouraging they're going to look at a draft bylaw," Munroe said. "The main problem we have is absentee landlords who purchase buildings with plans to do something only to have them fall through. Unfortunately, nothing has been done with the buildings and no one is interested in buying them."
Munroe, who several years ago purchased the vacant customs house and clock tower building, said the town does need to be aware of the economic climate and be cautious not to hinder individuals who do plan to redevelop property or buildings in the area.