Sherman proposes registry for dilapidated downtown structures

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
The city of Sherman is considering an ordinance that would require owners of dilapidated, vacant downtown buildings to register them with the city each year.

Downtown Sherman may soon have a new tool to help address vacant and derelict buildings in the city's core. City staff are considering proposing a new ordinance that would create a registry of these buildings in hopes of encouraging owners to revitalize these aging structures.

The idea of the registry was first openly discussed by city staff as a part of the city's annual budget retreat in late June. Members of the city council directed staff to create a formalized proposal which is expected to be presented for consideration later this year.

"This is an idea that came out of a group of downtown business owners that were brought together by Council Member (Josh) Stevenson to look at the future of downtown and look at some ideas for council consideration that would move the ball forward with downtown redevelopment," Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch said.

"The downtown building registration was an idea that came out of those sessions as something that hopefully would have a low amount of overhead and a low amount of financial resources that the city would need to outlay while providing a tangible benefit."

The issue stems from people purchasing older building in the city's core in the hopes that the values will increase over time due to renewed interest, redevelopment and growth in the central business district. However, little improvement or maintenance has been done to these buildings during the interim, Strauch said.

This has led to many of these properties further degrading in the years or decades that they have been left vacant. Tentatively, the city has identified about 40 buildings in the central business district that would fall into this category.

"One of the chief problems many of the downtown business owners have been talking about is that there is a lot of speculation going on in downtown Sherman, and has been for years, where people are purchasing dilapidated properties," Strauch said. "They are not investing any money into those properties, and they are in fact waiting around for someone to come along and offer them more money."

The proposed ordinance would create a registry of vacant and derelict commercial buildings in the central business district. Owners of derelict properties would be required to register annually and submit an action plan of how they plan to remediate their properties and get them occupied and in productive use. 

The city plans to charge a fee with each annual registration as a way of incentivizing property owners to return their land to use. Early proposals call for a $500 annual fee, but this could come in the form of a sliding scale, Strauch said.

Strauch noted that staff are making a distinction between commercial properties that are inhabitable and those that would be unable to receive a certificate of occupancy. A formalized distinction will likely be made in the final proposed version of the ordinance.

"It is really about providing a financial incentive for these property owners to either rehab these buildings and bring them up to condition where they could be rented, or just sell them to someone who will," he said.

Some buildings may simply be beyond the point of restoration and would require demolition in order to clear the way for redevelopment, Strauch said. This could be conducted in house using city resources and staff.

This ordinance is the first of several projects that are likely to develop with the goal of restoring and redeveloping downtown. The meetings with downtown stakeholders also generated interest in increasing lighting in downtown and exploring the idea of a more flexible zoning code for downtown.

Another project aimed at addressing possible sewer issues in the district is still ongoing, Strauch said.

"There are a lot of issues with it and when it rains there are a lot of downtown buildings that experience flooding in their basement and foul smells," Strauch said.

City crews started work on mapping downtown sewer infrastructure and locating any trouble spots earlier this spring. Results of the study are expected to be released in the coming months.