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Saratoga to target vacants

— What do Detroit and Saratoga Springs have in common? Answer: both are searching for a way to eliminate vacant properties.

Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Public Safety Christian Mathiesen is hoping to tackle the issue of vacant buildings in the city. He pegs the number of vacant businesses and private residences at 50. They are scattered throughout the city, he said, and some have sat empty for years.

“These buildings are continuing to deteriorate,” Mathiesen said. “This has an effect on neighborhoods and on property values in the area.”

The commissioner is pitching an “incentive” to get owners to either develop their properties or sell them so they can be utilized. A new ordinance would be added to the City Code that would clear the way for a cataloguing of vacant structures. Code enforcement officers would then inspect those buildings, and owners of a vacant structure would be assessed an annual “registration fee” of $100, which would increase to $200 after the first year.

“They have to be made safe,” Mathiesen said. “We need to make sure vagrants can’t get into the buildings.”

Under the proposal, which will be up for a public hearing at a Tuesday, Feb. 5, City Council meeting, a vacant building is defined as one that “is not occupied in any way.” The law would also define as vacant a building that’s been offered up for sale for more than 180 days, is pending foreclosure or is being demolished or is under construction without a proper permit.

Mathiesen said depending on how the public hearing goes, the City Council might vote on the proposal that night. He said that the Southwest Neighborhood Association, which is centered around the Geyser Road area, has been very interested in an ordinance of this sort for quite a while. That area includes socialite Mary Lou Whitney’s house, which is unoccupied for a good part of the year.

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