Editorial: Don’t nail down rules yet

  • Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 12:17 a.m.
    UPDATED: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 9:29 a.m.

The clock is clicking on boarded-up houses, even if Salisbury City Council does not approve the stringent regulations proposed by housing advocates. Boarded-up windows send a clear message: No one’s home.

That invites vandals and vagrants to pry a board loose and move in. The obvious vacancy also tells passersby that the neighborhood is going downhill. Good neighborhoods don’t deserve that.

To spur the owners of such houses into action, however, housing advocates have proposed regulations and timetables that are well-intended but extreme. There must be a less bureaucratic way to help responsible homeowners deal with abandoned houses that blight their neighborhoods.

This is a more significant problem than some people may realize. In 2011, the city had 113 boarded-up structures. The majority of the buildings’ owners live within Rowan County, but some 36 live out of county or out of state. The houses are out of sight, out of mind and far, far away from their own neighborhoods.

To get the attention of owners near and far, the housing advocates propose that anyone who boards up a house must register it with the Code Services Division within 48 hours and then either demolish or improve the house within six months or face steep fines. Meanwhile, the plywood covering the windows and doors should be painted to city specifications and attached with screws of a certain size.

Fewer property owners will board up houses if these rules go through. That goal might be accomplished. But don’t think such regulations guarantee the owners will improve the properties. They might just leave the houses more open to intruders and the elements. Or they might tear down structures that could have been saved.

That last possibility drew Historic Salisbury Foundation’s director into the discussion. One need look no further than the famed Blackmer House in the 100 block of South Fulton Street to see an example of a vacant house left to languish for a very long time. Fire ravaged the house in 1984, and it is yet to be restored. Technically, the house is not boarded up; its shutters and doors appear firmly shut. But the burned-out Blackmer House has been a less-than-appealing sight on a major city thoroughfare for nearly 30 years. The community and neighborhood have been willing to wait for this historically significant house to start a new chapter.

City Council will need to balance neighbors’ urgent desire to get rid of boarded-up houses with the real concerns and pressures on property owners — and the value of saving old structures for new lives. Six months is not enough time.

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