Inside Cascade Saloon

Inside the Cascade Saloon in downtown Greensboro before its restoration. The building was in danger of collapsing before repairs..

A proposed “good repair ordinance” for Greensboro is based on a simple premise: If you own a piece of property, you ought to be willing to keep it up.

That means meeting minimum standards for safety and appearance.

The city’s housing codes already enforce such basic rules for residential housing. We deserve some assurance that our neighbor won’t make such a mess of his house that it affects the whole community.

As City Councilman Justin Outling noted in a June 16 News & Record column: “When a negligent or absentee residential property owner completely refuses to take care of their home, a neighbor can file a complaint with the city so the problem has an opportunity to be fixed. No such accountability mechanism exists with regard to commercial properties — even those in dangerous and dilapidated conditions for decades.”

It seems only logical to set similar rules and expectations for commercial properties. Maybe more so, since many nonresidential buildings share walls with their neighbors. The City Council was supposed to vote on the good-repair ordinance at its June 18 meeting but, after a heated discussion, postponed acting on it.

Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, who moved to delay the vote for 30 days, said she had heard from more than 16 callers who expressed concerns that she believes need to be discussed.

Fair enough. Though there have been three public meetings about the issue, the more input, the better. And sometimes such rules can pick too many nits, or be unintentionally onerous.

That said, the underlying premise of such an ordinance seems reasonable and constructive. The ordinance would set standards in both major and minor categories. Failure to meet one of the major standards or five of the minor ones would constitute a violation and call for a fine. Those standards would include, according to a primer written by city staff members:

“Dilapidation, decay, unsanitary conditions, vermin or rat infestation, filth or contamination, or disrepair which is dangerous to the health, safety, or welfare of the occupants or other people in the city.”

Unsafe floors or roofs.

Lack of adequate plumbing, electrical wiring or ventilation.

Defects that can pose fire hazards, “accident(s), or other calamities.”

Complaints against building owners would be lodged by tenants, neighbors, city officials (including fire marshals and police officers). The ordinance would apply to buildings throughout the city. It has come up before over the years but was never enacted. Rules for maintaining private property often boil people’s blood in Greensboro. A design guide for downtown buildings met blistering opposition several years ago and even housing standards have been hotly contested.

But the ordinance could ensure that neighboring businesses are not affected by eyesores, pests or safety hazards. It also could boost the tax base and help recruit new businesses. While the city needs to get the details right, the underlying rationale is strong. So, the extra time to gather input should not be used an excuse to craft a toothless policy. Or to wind up — again — doing nothing. As Outling noted at the June 18 council meeting, “There has to be a point where we need to say enough is enough.”

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