Post a sign or pay a fine

LISBON — Landlords with vacant properties in the downtown business district will soon be required to make an effort to find a renter or buyer, or be prepared to pay.

Village Council this week passed on first reading a new building vacancy law that will require owners to post a sign saying the building is either for rent or sale, along with a phone number, or face being fined $150 per violation. Every day the violation continues is considered a new violation.

The properties are also subject to inspection after the owner receives a vacancy notification, and the inspection fee is $200 per year. The owner must also pay a $200 fee the first year the building is vacant, with the fee doubling every year after until it maxes out at $3,200 in year five.

The legislation must be passed by council on two more readings before it can take effect, and council is only scheduled to meet once in January and once in February.

The piece of legislation is one of two that are to serve as the cornerstone of Mayor Joseph Morenz’s attempt to revitalize the downtown business district. The other legislation, passed in September, fines property owners $100 per citation for failing to maintain their building and keep it clean.

The effort was launched in earnest 12 months ago when council, with the financial help of the Lisbon Area Chamber of Commerce, hired Town Center Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in helping revitalize small town business districts. A survey performed earlier in the year by TCA found that of the 21 vacant buildings in the business district, none were listed for rent or for sale, which is why passing the vacant building law is considered so important.

The study also found that nearly 25 percent of the 88 storefronts in downtown Lisbon were vacant. TCA said the ideal vacancy rate is no more than 4 percent at any moment.

TCA representative Mark Peluso met with council’s economic development committee prior to the regular council meeting to update them now that its one-year contract with the village was set to expire Dec. 31. He said once the two key pieces of legislation are in place, they should turn their efforts to attracting the right mix and type of businesses.

Peluso said every thriving small town business district has what is called a “vibrancy index (VI)” that is based on the right mix of shops, restaurants, stores and other businesses that will bring people to the downtown and, in turn, attract more businesses. The goal is a VI of 80 percent, and Lisbon’s is 42 percent, “so you have a lot of work to do,” he said.

A thriving downtown drives up the value of residential properties, “so it would make sense to do everything you can to increase that (VI) number,” Peluso said.

Town Center will continue to help the village by creating an interactive database of the 88 buildings in downtown Lisbon and listing whether they are in compliance with building maintenance, vacancy and signage laws, and whether they are available.

“To make that happen you need a really close working relationship with our zoning officials,” Peluso said, adding this will involve training village zoning/building inspector Zach Barkley to input information into the database.