Greensburg to establish vacant property registry, fines for absentee owners
Greensburg will create a registry of the city’s vacant properties at the expense of absentee property owners, according to Mayor Robert Bell.
“There’s all these vacant properties around town, and we just want to have some kind of regulation,” Bell said.
Under the ordinance passed this week by city council, owners of vacant properties will need to register those properties with the city for a fee, and renew the registration yearly.
Council has yet to set that fee, Bell said.
It will likely do so at September’s meeting.
Once the fee is set, property owners will have 30 days to register.
If an owner defaults on their mortgage, the city will inspect the property to see if it is vacant, according to the ordinance.
The ordinance also creates new maintenance and security requirements. Owners are responsible for keeping vacant properties free of weeds and debris, and ensuring the building is secure.
Those who fail to register or maintain their properties can be taken to court, and if convicted could be subject to fines of $1,000 per violation per day.
“There has to be some kind of penalty for keeping these properties this way,” Bell said.
Many of the city’s properties are bought by out-of-town investors who sit on them for years without making improvements, he said. He hopes the new requirements will motivate owners to fix up their properties, or sell them to someone who will.
The city already pursues legal action against absentee owners for code violations, and often has difficulty tracking down the owners. The new ordinance provides another tool for the city to use in its fight against blight, Bell said.
In 2017 the Tribune-Review found about 20% of downtown commercial properties were vacant. That figure has remained pretty much the same for many years, according to data collected by the Greensburg Community Development Corp.
Since then the city demolished more than 20 buildings as part of a sweeping anti-blight campaign.
Gov. Tom Wolf in June toured several vacant buildings in downtown Greensburg, promoting his Restore Pennsylvania plan that would implement a severance tax on natural gas to raise $300 million a year to battle blight.
There have been some signs of downtown revival this year. Several long-vacant buildings on South Pennsylvania Avenue are under renovation, slated to become an apartment building, a co-working space and an antique shop.
One of Main Street’s most prominent vacant buildings — the former Barclay-Westmoreland Trust Co. — is being renovated by a New Jersey developer with plans to turn it into office space for startups.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter .