Managing Abandoned Properties

April 1, 2017 Brownfields, News Brian Nowakowski

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Abandoned properties are a problem in many communities, from urban to rural. These properties, which may consist of buildings or vacant lots, can become a nuisance as they can be magnets for illegal activity, a safety or health risk, a fire hazard, a location for unlawful refuse dumping, or simply a negative impact on surrounding property values.

Laws differ from state to state, but local governments can play an important role once the property has become a nuisance. The best strategy to address a given property will vary from locality to locality, and from site to site. However, there are general strategies that will be broadly applicable:

  • Conduct an inventory of your abandoned properties to understand the types of properties that are being abandoned, the neighborhoods that are impacted, and the extent of the problem.
  • Develop partnerships between the local government and other stakeholders to address the issue, including neighborhood community development corporations, economic development councils, developers, or others as applicable.
  • Develop neighborhood stabilization strategies to halt further abandonment.
  • Obtain site ownership via tax foreclosure, eminent domain, or purchase, depending upon the situation. If contamination is suspected, follow federal All Appropriate Inquiry guidelines to retain federal liability relief prior to voluntary acquisition.
  • Secure the site to remove immediate hazards.
  • Conduct environmental investigation activities if warranted.
  • Work with community partners to develop a vision for the reuse of the site that is grounded in neighborhood market dynamics.
  • Develop incentives to encourage redevelopment.
  • Establish design standards to ensure that the redevelopment will be of high quality to discourage future abandonment. Consider integration of green infrastructure or other green elements.
  • Transfer property to developer to complete redevelopment process.
At each step, grants or financial incentives may be available to assist with the effort. These often depend upon the ownership status, the activities required, and the desired reuse. For more information on
addressing abandonment, a great resource is the book by Senior Fellow at the Center for Community Progress, Alan Mallach called: Bringing Buildings Back: From Abandoned Properties to Community Assets.

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