Cracking the code

Opinion: Editorials

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Why doesn't the village do something about that building?

You know you've asked yourself that, driving down a street – say, like Ogden Avenue – and noticing a property that has less-than-ideal curb appeal. Sometimes the properties are commercial, sometimes residential. Either way, they're eyesores, over long periods of time.

So why doesn't someone just do something, already.

A recent lawsuit settlement between the village of Brookfield and a commercial property owner on Ogden Avenue would seem to illustrate why getting chronic property maintenance issues cleared up can be so difficult.

Property owners have rights, and when they feel like they're being unfairly targeted for property maintenance violations, they can fight back through the courts. That's their right.

In the case of 9441 Ogden Ave., the village tried to force compliance to the property maintenance code by blanketing the address with violations and then, when those issues weren't promptly addressed, fining the owner more than $10,000.

That action triggered a lawsuit by the property owner, who wanted a judge to stick it to the village for, in his view, harassing him. In the end, the property owner agreed to pay the village about half of what he owned in fines. And, in the meantime, the building no longer has any pending property maintenance violations, which the village considers a win on that score.

But, it's clearly not a satisfying solution for anyone. 

The property owner still feels harassed and is not motivated to improve the property to any great extent. And the village, in order to collect a fraction of the fines and get code compliance was forced to spend almost $40,000 in legal fees defending the lawsuit the code enforcement action triggered.

What we're left with is a commercial property on Ogden Avenue that is still underutilized and unattractive, albeit code compliant, for now.

So, how do we move ahead?

It's a difficult answer, because the village can only do so much to nudge property owners off a dime. They have zoning and code enforcement at their disposal. That's pretty much it.

They can't force an owner to sell, or develop, or even lease. They can provide some incentives – the Ogden Avenue property in question sits within a TIF district – but the village in the end has very little control over the situation.

Brookfield is not alone in this respect. Look at Riverside and the mixed-use building on East Burlington Street that was at one time supposed to be turned into a micro-brewery and restaurant. It's as dilapidated as ever, with no plans to improve it as far as we know.

Sometimes you have property owners who just are content to let properties devolve and their assessments fall. For what? Who knows? All a municipality can do is try to hit them over the head with the code book and pour money into legal bills to keep properties from sliding into decrepitude.

Why doesn't the village do anything? In this case the village did. And it got them back to square one.

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