Planning and Zoning Updated Fee Schedule

As a part of the of the recent Middletown Development Code update, the City evaluated the Planning and Zoning Fee Schedule for permitting and application review fees. The Planning & Zoning Fee Schedule had not been updated in over ten years and had some of the lowest permitting fees compared to Butler, Hamilton, and Warren Counties. Staff compared the increased fees with surrounding communities and the City will still remain competitive with lower review fees. The City Council approved the fee schedule increases and they became effective on Friday, September 7th.

Planning and Zoning Updated Fee Schedule

Housing Meeting – July 26

The Housing Committee met on July 26th and discussed the City’s residential properties that are located within the “buffer zones” surrounding our largest industrial zoned area that includes AK Steel. The buffer zones that have been identified are those residential properties located within 500 feet and 1,000 feet of the heavy industrial area.

“Buffer Zones” are defined as areas created to provide space between land uses or developments to separate potentially harmful impacts of one or more uses onto another. In the case of Middletown we are specifically concerned with our heavy industrial zoned properties and their impacts on our surrounding residential communities and uses.

Buffer zones are an important tool for the Committee in regards to the quality of life for our residents. Can people live comfortably alongside heavy industry? If so, how close? If not, what are our next steps to resolve this issue? Determining appropriate buffer zones from our existing industry will affect our City’s future housing development and commercial developments.

Today when planning a City there would never be heavy industrial uses placed directly next to residential uses without some sort of required separation for safety. Buffer zones shield housing from industrial off-site impacts and nuisances such as sound, odor, air quality, etc. The separation between incompatible uses can be achieved by having commercial uses located between, restricting motor vehicle access, increasing setbacks, requiring additional landscaping, restricting signs, and in some cases by requiring additional information and proof of mitigation from factories that may cause potentially harmful outputs from production.

The presentation provided to the Committee gave a closer look at the properties located within close proximity of our heavy industrial area. The areas surrounding the industrial zone were divided into ten different snapshot areas. The group reviewed each area in terms of the existing housing stock, median home value, existing conditions, and housing/zoning code violations. The information gained at this meeting will assist the group as we move forward to our next topic area of code enforcement.

For more information about the meeting or to view the presentation and materials discussed at the meeting, please click the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information

July 12 Housing Meeting – Vacant Residential Land

The July 12 Housing Committee meeting focused on vacant residential land. Through the housing and foreclosure crisis and the recession, homes went abandoned and after sitting empty for several years, many became blighted in our neighborhoods.

Through state grants given to County Landbanks, the City of Middletown has removed approximately 500 blighted homes during the past decade. While removing blight and places where crime are occurring is a good thing, in this case, we created a problem as we solved a problem.

We punched holes throughout many neighborhoods, leaving blank empty lots scattered throughout the neighborhoods. Not only did they serve no purpose at this point,  but we also had to mow them as a city at a cost of about $250,000 per year to keep our vacant lots from blighting the neighborhood. And… of course now there were no property taxes coming in where the house used to be and no potential for future income tax.

We’ve had various programs to sell vacant lots to the neighbor next door, and we’ve sold off several lots each year. Bottom line, however, is that we still have hundreds of vacant lots and no plan to do anything with them except mow them. While removing immediate blight is not a terrible short term strategy, leaving grassy residential lots indefinitely is not a long term answer.

Other communities have utilized these lots for many different purposes. Bigger lots can have in-fill construction to build a new house on the now vacant lot. Other smaller lots have been utilized for neighborhood basketball courts, green space, pocket parks, public art and cultural exhibits, walking trails and community gardens.

I gave the example below of how we could create a flow chart that led us to the proper use of vacant residential lots. We discussed the pros and cons and the chart below is for discussion purposes only. It is a concept that we will develop more clearly as part of the new policy.

Vacant Land Chart

As always, if you wish to see the meeting or the materials that we are reviewing for discussion, you can view everything at the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information

June 28 Housing Meeting – Vacant Residential Housing

The Housing Committee met again on June 28th to discuss vacant residential housing.  According to the US Census, Middletown still has over 3,000 vacant housing units as of 2016 (the last numbers available).  While there are many legitimate reasons for a house to be vacant, (house is for sale, rentals between tenants, etc.) there are still a number of vacant homes with no activity throughout the city.

The Ohio Fire Code and our own Property Maintenance Code require that vacant houses be boarded to prevent unauthorized entry. Under the property maintenance code, houses that are boarded up more than one year without activity are subject to demolition. We have never been that aggressive enforcing that provision of the code.

We continue to have more vacant property than the rest of Butler County and Ohio as a whole. Middletown lists 14.8% of our housing as vacant. Butler County is at 9.6%. Ohio is at 10.6%. Translating percentages to actual homes, if we wanted to look more like the rest of Butler County and Ohio, we would need to re-occupy another 1,000 houses currently sitting vacant.

We talked about the balance between an individual owner’s property rights to keep their code compliant property empty and pay their property taxes versus the city’s interest in having occupied neighborhoods paying income tax.

If you re-occupied 1,000 of those homes and each home produced the median household income for Middletown of $38,898, then those vacant homes could be producing another $600-700,000 in income tax each year if they were occupied. That’s another 3 streets a year we could repave.

Over 80 Ohio cities have vacant property ordinances of some type. Some have no fees and only require registration. Others impose significant fees each year and require a crime prevention plan and reoccupation plan as part of the ordinance.

There was a good discussion at this meeting, trying to find the balance of neighborhood improvement against individual property rights. We’ll tie the issues identified into our overall housing policy as we move through all of the various topics impacting our neighborhoods.

As always, if you wish to see the meeting or the materials that we are reviewing for discussion, you can view everything at the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information

 

Housing Meeting June 14th – Tax Delinquent Housing

Our Housing Committee meeting on June 14th focused on Tax Delinquent Property within the City of Middletown.  According to the Butler County Auditor, there are 1276 parcels in Middletown which are subject to potential tax foreclosure for failure to timely pay property taxes.   The map looks like this….

Delinquent taxes

Those 1276 parcels owe a collective $6,189,484.00 in delinquent property taxes. Of that almost $6.2 million dollars, $4.5 million is owed to the Middletown City school district, almost $600,000 is owed to the City, $744,000 is owed to Butler County, and $282,000 is owed to other entities (Library, Miami Valley Conservancy, etc.).

Along with the $6.2 million in property taxes, 374 of those parcels have past due water bills totally $49,800.00. 137 parcels have filed city income tax returns but have not paid their balances of $67,000.00. Another 304 parcels have filed no city income tax returns for the past two years. To give you an idea of what that means to the city, if each of those houses had the city’s median household income of $36,898 and filed and paid their income taxes, the city would have received another $392,595.00 in income tax. My guess is that these addresses do not make the median household income, but you see the potential effect on revenues.

In the past, the City has at times been criticized for “picking on” minorities and the poor.  My question to the committee was “if these folks are delinquent on property taxes, delinquent on water bills, and many haven’t filed or paid city income tax, do you think  1) that they will ever be able to catch up? and 2) that their property is compliant with the property maintenance code?”

The answer in most cases is no.

My next question to the committee was that, given your valid concerns for the poor and minority residents of the city, and given that residents want their streets paved and quality of life restored to the city, what is the role of city government in dealing with these tax delinquent properties? If the City requests tax foreclosure on these parcels, are we “picking on” the poor and minorities or are we acting in the best overall interest of the city as a whole?

Said another way, if the owners of these properties can never catch up, are we ready as a community to work on getting them out of those properties and putting the houses back into the hands of people who can pay their taxes and maintain the property?   That doesn’t necessarily mean driving poor people out of the city, but it would mean helping them out of their current situation and into housing that they can actually afford.

Given the high number of tax delinquent properties, we all agreed that there would be a lot of properties available for foreclosure that wouldn’t impact residents. If there is an out of town landlord who is collecting rent but not maintaining the property or paying taxes, shouldn’t we get them out of control of the property? If the property is vacant and/or abandoned, we should probably start the process to get that house freed up for a more productive use. If the parcel is just vacant land, no occupying homeowner or renter would be hurt by the tax foreclosure.

At some point, we’ll have to deal with homeowners who cannot afford to maintain the house that they own. As part of this overall policy, we’ll have to develop tools to help people transition from housing that they cannot afford to hopefully better housing that they can afford.

It’s a long hard process and we are now earnestly at work. As always, if you wish to see the meeting or the materials that we are reviewing for discussion, you can view everything at the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information

 

Animal Control Officer in Middletown

During the recession, the Animal Control Officer was one of the earlier positions eliminated to save money. We’ve relied on the Butler County Animal Control Officer for the past decade or so, but they generally only come to Middletown on specific complaints, so there was no ongoing, consistent, animal control in place for the past several years.

Our new Middletown Animal Control Officer started this month. We have re-established our relationship with the area shelters and all stray animals captured by the Animal Control Officer will be offered for adoption.

Given the lack of attention over the last decade to this issue, my guess is that it will likely take several years to thin out the stray cats, along with a now high population of urban raccoons and skunks. But we’re starting to put it all back together now.

Keep in mind that this also means we’ll be enforcing the animal control Ordinances of the city again. We’ll have dog running at large and no dog license cases, etc., starting to show up in court again.  Please keep your dog properly licensed and on a leash when required.

If you have a dog bite or an aggressive dog running loose, call the MPD desk at 425-7700 to report the problem. Our new Officer will be working on stray dogs, feral cats, and urban wild animals. He’ll have plenty to do for the foreseeable future….

 

 

Paving Update

If there is one area that dominates the resident’s and Council’s perception of the city and their desires, it is street paving. I’ve talked about this a few times here, but I received updated information and wanted to give everyone another look at what I see and the challenges in getting caught up.

First, below is the most recent update on what is required to repave all of the city roads.  The number is a staggering $160 million.

paving update

The bad side is we have a lot of catching up to do.  The good side is that we are spending more on paving in the area than everyone except West Chester….

Paving

This year’s paving program starting mid-July will include:

South Breiel Boulevard from Lefferson Road to Oxford State Road

South Main Street from 18th Avenue to the City limits

Goldman Avenue from Orchard Street to Highland Street

Lewis Street from Jackson Lane to Eaton Avenue

Marshall Road from Manchester Road to Riverview Drive

Park Lane – all

Contractors will perform this work for a total cost of $2,268,291.12.

In addition, city crews will be paving:

Minnesota Street from 10th Avenue to 14th Avenue

Shelly Street – all

Boylston Street from Victoria to Holly

Alley paving will include:

Sherman to Grand between The Alameda and Stanley

Panama to Verity between Elwood and Hughes

Verity (AKA Canal) to Broad Street Parking Lot Access behind the 1100 block of Central Avenue.

The cost for city crew paving will be about $150,000.

As revenues continue to strengthen, we will be putting more and more funding towards paving in future years.