Own a vacant building in Lakewood? The city may send you a bill.

Owners of vacant buildings in Lakewood can expect a bill soon, although there are some exceptions.

The City Council in the suburb west of Denver last week voted 9-1 to implement an ordinance that aims to make owners pay for the resources that Lakewood spends in connection with vacant commercial properties. Councilman Rich Olver was the sole dissenting vote.

The new ordinance, which Lakewood Planning Director Travis Parker said went into effect immediately, requires owners of non-residential vacant buildings to pay a $700 “registration fee” every six months. On top of that, owners will be charged $800 every time emergency services are called to the property.

“That is to keep both the property owner and the city on top of the issues that come up,” Parker said. “Vacant properties have a tendency to be higher demand on services, be that police service, fire service, code enforcement.”

The registration fee was calculated by the amount of hours city staffers spent reaching out to owners and registering vacant buildings. Similarly, the emergency service fee is based on the average amount of time spent responding to calls about vacant buildings.

While there are some exceptions, Parker said generally a vacant building is one that’s been empty for more than 30 days. Buildings that are listed for sale, under lease negotiations or have permits filed for work, for example, don’t qualify as vacant.

“Our long-term goal is a minimization of vacant properties in the city and keeping as many properties in active use as possible,” Parker said.

Some nearby cities and counties have similar registration programs, including Jefferson County, but don’t appear to charge a fee. Parker said it’s “relatively common” across the country, but believes Lakewood is the first in the Denver metro area to adopt the practice.

The fee is the latest component of Lakewood’s “distressed properties program,” which went into effect over the summer and aims to address dilapidated and vacant buildings. That program also established a path for the city to purchase vacant properties and clean them for resale, and established a revolving loan fund that can give developers money for demolition.

In July, BusinessDen reported developers Trailbreak Partners and TOD Properties were the first to receive cash from the revolving loan fund to demolish the shopping center at 10th Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard.

At the time, Lakewood Economic Development Director Robert Smith told BusinessDen that vacant buildings are “a nightmare for bad things to happen,” but undeveloped lots “are much more manageable.”

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Only one member of the public spoke about the new fee during a public comment period, and that person did not express a clear opinion. A handful of residents emailed in favor of the fees ahead of the meeting.

“There are too many Lakewood commercial property owners who are absent and neglectful and doing little, if anything, to fill their properties,” Valerie Passerini said. “These do-nothing owners fail to contribute to the vibrancy of our city or tax base or provide jobs – yet they enjoy the responsiveness of police and fire.”

Jeri Coffey was the only resident that emailed against it.

“It sounds like we create more bureaucracy to administer and enforce it and the fee pays for the expanded bureaucratic workload,” Coffey said.

This story was reported by our partner BusinessDen.

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