Town considers vacant building bylaw
AMHERST - Amherst council got its first look at a proposed vacant buildings bylaw and has asked for it to be sent for further study.
"Judging by the reaction we've had here today I'd say we have something to work with. Now we have to have staff go back and see what we can change to make it even better," Mayor Robert Small said during Monday's June committee of the whole meeting. "We're also going to have it reviewed by the solicitor."
The proposed bylaw, expected to be brought forward for first reading later this year, would set a period of time that a derelict building, once identified, must be brought up to habitable condition.
It also allows for a maximum period of time that a building's windows can be boarded up and gives the town the authority to acquire a building should it desire.
Planner Jason MacDonald told council that the bylaw would give the town the ability to have a number of derelict buildings, especially in the downtown core, brought back to a useable state. Along with requiring owners to fix the buildings' exterior, it would also require them to fix the interior as well.
"There's nothing we can do to make someone utilize a building. All we can do is require them to bring it back to a habitable condition if it's a residence or a useable condition if it's a commercial building," MacDonald said, adding existing derelict buildings will have to be fixed up after the bylaw eventually passes.
The proposed bylaw would use the same process as the unsightly premises bylaw with council having the final say on whether the town would order a building demolished or acquire it.
MacDonald said the town could enforce an order on a property and bill it back to the owner, it could fine the owner for not being in compliance, order it to be demolished or take possession of the property if the owner refuses to sell or redevelop the building.
Coun. George Baker is concerned with the thought of the town acquiring property, adding he doesn't think the town should be in the real estate business while Coun. Dale Fawthrop suggested the bylaw is a good first step.
"This is an excellent idea," he said. "If we're going to move forward with beautification there are some eyesores downtown that need to be dealt with."
Fawthrop said it's important to have active buildings in the community meaning buildings that are being used. He's concerned that even though some buildings are not unsightly they aren't being used.