Cleaning up Vacant Buildings in Downtown Fresno

Fresno, CA Cynthia Sterling has set her sights on two historic buildings on the Fulton Mall that she says have become eyesores, and may even pose safety hazards.

"X" marks the spot, for firefighters it's an indication the building is vacant, for councilmember Cynthia Sterling it means it's time for action.

"People start living in them, they become dangerous, they become fire hazards," says Sterling.

The old Bank of Italy building has been sitting empty on the northeast corner of Tulare and the Fulton Mall for years, ornate and regal on the outside, but a different story on the inside. Just across the street is the old JC Penney building, its windows and doors boarded up.

Jerry Bishop, Planning and Development, says "Both buildings have a dangerous building "notice-in -order" filed against them. That notice-in-order lists the things that need to be done to make the building viable."

The owner of both buildings, a southern California developer, submitted drawings to the city and received permits to turn the old JC Penney into a multi-use building with penthouses on the top floor, retail offices on the first floor and apartments in the middle. But that was two years ago.

"Without any movement on them, then what do they become? Historic buildings that are eyesores in our community so we need to take some aggressive steps so that other property owners know that eventually something is going to be done," says Sterling.

The Planning and Development department and city attorney's office has drafted a new ordinance that would increase penalties, shorten enforcement timelines and allow structures to be demolished. "Neither one are considered unsafe at this point but they are continuing to deteriorate, so at some point they will," says Bishop.

As of today, the property owner has received two $200 citations, councilmember Sterling believes it's time to get his attention. "Maybe giving an opportunity for another developer, another organization to come in and put it to some good use, so I'm not sure yet what we are going to do, but the idea is, we have to do something."

The owner has 30 days to respond and complete the repairs on the citations issued about two weeks ago but he also has the option to appeal and that would put the entire process on hold.

Meantime the new vacant building ordinance should be presented to the city council in 30--45 days.

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