Kudos are in order for Mayor Tim Keller for targeting dilapidated commercial buildings and recognizing that the city does indeed have considerable leverage when it enforces existing city ordinances.
The Keller Administration targeted the vacant strip mall at the intersection of Juan Tabo and Central that was once home to a Furr’s Supermarket, later a Vietnamese restaurant and then bingo parlor at one time.
For the last 10 years, the strip mall has been vacant and nothing but an eyesore that had become a magnet for crime and brought property values down.
For years, the empty building was a source of constant complaints from neighbors and property owners as well as calls for service to APD to report break ins.
Mayor Keller even got into the act by posting a red “substandard building” notice on the front of the vacant strip mall.
Keller then went on to post as substandard structures at Eubank and Central and on Silver to post notices.
According to a city spokesman, 30 dilapidated commercial structures have been identified for future enforcement actions.
Frankly, there are hundreds more vacant commercial properties not to mention vacant residential homes in Albuquerque where the owners have been derelict in not maintaining and that have deteriorated to the point the properties cannot be repaired and where structures need be torn down for public safety reasons.
The city enforcement actions taken against the commercial properties are part of a “pilot project” program aimed at tackling dilapidated commercial buildings.
Supposedly, the pilot program will be reviewed after two years to determine success.
The city for close to 30 years has always had zoning enforcement and building and construction code ordinances to address substandard commercial properties.
One major problem has been the lack of commitment by the Albuquerque City Council during the last 8 years to exercise their condemnation authority and failure to fund the Safe City Strike force.
There are a number of city ordinances that define substandard buildings that allow the city to inspect, post and clean up and board up and place liens on commercial properties as well secure court orders in District Court against property owners and ultimately use of condemnation authority.
New Mexico also has some of the strongest nuisance abatement laws in the country that were at one time enforced by the city attorney’s office and the Safe City Strike Force.
Another major problem was a reluctance on the part of the previous Berry administration to enforce the existing ordinances out of fear of alienating strong supporters within the construction industry and Republican property rights advocates who have always had a disdain for any condemnation actions by the city even when done for the public safety when properties become a nuisance to the point of endangering public health, safety and welfare.
THE EYE OF NAIOP IS UPON YOU
Not at all surprising, the New Mexico chapter of NAIOP (National Association of Industrial Office Parks), a commercial real estate development association, said the group hasn’t taken a stance on the “pilot project” but will keep an “eye” on the pilot program.
It is likely NAIOP will do far more than just keep an eye on the pilot project and no doubt will want to see it fail.
NAIOP has a lengthy history of opposing commercial and residential zoning, construction and inspection codes and planning inspections viewing them as unreasonable government interference costing its membership money.
Last year, the city council proposed an ordinance to address the registration and maintenance of substandard commercial properties.
The ordinance governing commercial properties was going to require all owners of vacant commercial properties to register with the planning department, but the ordinance was totally abandoned when the city council folded like a cheap suit after outcry from the commercial property development industry, especially NAIOP.
For upwards of 16 years, there has been a city ordinance that requires owners of vacant residential properties to register the properties with the city’s planning department and which also required the residential property owners to secure the properties and maintain vacant properties.
Originally, the Planning Department took the position that the vacant building registration ordinance equally applied to commercial properties but that all changed 8 years ago with the election of a Republican mayor.
For a period of 8 years, from 2001 to 2009, NAIOP’S membership took strong issue with enforcement of the building and zoning codes and enforcement actions against commercial properties that became substandard with those actions taken by the Safe City Strike Force.
SAFE CITY STRIKE FORCE SUCCESS
From 2002 to 2009, the Safe City Strike Force was formed to combat blighted commercial and residential properties.
Thirty (30) to forty-five (40) representatives from the Albuquerque Police Department, the Albuquerque Fire Department, the Fire Marshal’s Office, the Planning Department Code residential and commercial code inspectors, Family Community Services and the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office participated and comprised the strike force.
Seventy (70) to one hundred fifty (150) properties a week, both residential and commercial properties would be reviewed by the Safe City Strike Force.
The Albuquerque City Council would be given weekly updates on the progress made in their districts on the nuisance properties identified by the Strike Force.
The Safe City Strike Force routinely prepared condemnation resolutions for enactment by the Albuquerque City Council to tear down substandard buildings, including commercial buildings.
Over 8 years, the Safe City Strike Force took civil enforcement action against some 6,500 properties, both commercial and residential.
The success of the Safe City Strike Force was clear and unmistakable:
For 8 years, the Safe City Strike Force took enforcement actions against 48 motels along central and demolished 8, took aggressive action against violent bars, closed down 4 bars and demolished 2 bars, closed 2 west side flea markets where stolen property was being sold, took enforcement actions against 20+ convenience stores, not to mention taking code enforcement actions against hundreds of residential properties that had become magnets for crime with homes used for crack houses, meth labs and illicit drug dealings, and demolished and entire strip mall and 2 vacant restaurants.
In 2010, the previous administration began to dismantled and reduce funding for the Safe City Strike Force which is not at all surprising given that then Mayor Berry was construction contractor.
Mayor Berry was considered NAIOP old reliable go to guy, especially for construction projects like the disastrous ART Bus project which many NAIOP members benefited from and did work on the project.
At the beginning of 2018, the Safe City Strike Force had one employee, its director, and the Safe City Strike Force exists in name only.
KELLER COMMITMENT TO REINSTATE SAFE CITY STRIKE FORCE
Mayor Tim Keller made a firm commitment to reinstate the Safe City Strike Force when he requested $3.9 million for the city’s Code Enforcement Department and the Safe City Strike Force in the adopted 2018-2019 budget.
$ 1.5 million in additional public safety spending was added by the city council.
The Safe City Strike Force and the Planning Department received a funding bump up to $425,000 for the incoming fiscal year.
$125,000 has been allocate to hire two additional code enforcement specialists.
$300,000 has been allocated to secure or demolish neglected structures.
The $300,000 for board ups of blighted properties is a good start, but significantly more will be needed to address the approximate 3,500 substandard properties throughout Albuquerque.
In 2009, the Safe City Strike Force had upwards of $1 million dollars consisting of federal grants and city council allocations.
Funding the Safe City Strike Force may not be a construction project like the ART Bus project, a library or fire station that Mayors and city councilors always love taking credit for, but it would go a long way to getting rid of blighted commercial and residential properties, which only sully entire neighborhoods and put residents in danger and bring property values down.
Given the approximate 3,500 substandard commercial and residential structures in Albuquerque, it should not be just a two-year pilot program but a complete and total reinstatement of the Safe City Strike Force.
Mayor Tim Keller is commended for his commitment to reinstating the Safe City Strike Force and his “pilot project”.