The City of Phoenix Neighborhood Services Department is reviewing the code compliance process used to address blight and zoning violations to assure maximum efficiency and effectiveness. The review process stems from direction provided by the Housing and Neighborhoods Council Subcommittee. For more information or to request a form to provide feedback, contact Meryl Lawrence at 602-534-3607.
[Source: Michael Clancy, Arizona Business Gazette] — Uncut weeds, graffiti, outdoor piles of junk: These are the norms in the world of blight remediation. But a new, potentially more dangerous problem has emerged as the economy has declined. Vacant homes, usually the subjects of foreclosure, are keeping the city’s team of 43 blight inspectors on their toes.
At a recent Neighborhood Services Department presentation of its program, Put the Diamond Back Into Your Neighborhood, about 20 people showed up at the Paradise Valley Community Center to hear what the city offers and to share issues they are facing. Of those who spoke, each was concerned about abandoned homes, whether down the street, on the next block, even next door.
The concerns were different from the kinds of things Neighborhood Services inspectors usually see. Vacant homes often present a combination of more common violations. “It is absolutely a growing problem,” said Patrick Ravenstein, a neighborhood-preservation supervisor who presented the program.
He said the department’s normal concerns are related to trash and debris, outdoor storage, untamed or dead vegetation, broken fences, junk cars, vehicles parked on surfaces that are not dustproof, graffiti, and open, vacant structures. He pointed out that residents can play a big role in keeping up their neighborhoods when those kinds of problems crop up.
Some neighborhoods do quarterly cleanups, which the city supports with tools and trash bins. Some groups have landscape crews that assist with maintaining properties for people who are unable to do so. Individuals get involved by painting over graffiti, with supplies from the city. A new program from the city is Blight Busters, which trains individuals or groups to lead neighborhood efforts. [Note: Read the full article at Big problem for Phoenix: Abandoned homes.]
[Source: Erin Zlomek, Arizona Republic] — As big-box retailers like Circuit City and Mervyn’s shut down stores amid a troubled economy, Arizona cities are preparing for the aftermath: falling sales-tax revenues and an onslaught of vacant storefronts. By early next year, experts expect that close to 2 million square feet of retail space, about twice the size of an indoor shopping mall like Arizona Mills or Arrowhead Towne Center, will have been vacated in Maricopa County as a result of the economic downturn. By late next year, more than 75 stores are expected to close, resulting in a loss of nearly 2,000 Arizona retail jobs.
The turnover likely will offer shoppers bargains at various going-out-of-business sales and could eventually inspire an influx of newer, trendier stores. But the closures also have city officials scrambling to cover revenue shortfalls and deter commercial blight. Arizona is affected by the retail bloodletting more so than other states. It has a growth-based economy, and the state’s general fund relies heavily on sales-tax revenue. “The closure of so many big boxes does have an immediate adverse affect,” said Dennis Kavanaugh, a Mesa councilman. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
Phoenix residents can learn what they can do to prevent blight and neighborhood preservation ordinance violations during a free workshop at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 14, at Phoenix City Hall, Assembly Room A, 200 W. Washington St. For more information, click here.
From time to time, we’ll throw out an “Idea of the Day” culled from sources here in Arizona and elsewhere. The following idea comes from a recent article in New London, Connecticut’s daily newspaper, The Day, about their city’s attempt to deal with vacant, dormat lots in their downtown, a problem experienced in many cities across the U.S., including Phoenix:
“Frank McLaughlin, a downtown developer, and Penny Parsekian, the New London Main Street CEO, said some people have started talking about reverse taxation: levying a higher tax on a property that is vacant. ‘What happens is, that vacancy devalues the property around it, and so there should be a fee for that,’ Parsekian said. ‘It’s been that way in Germany forever — you get taxed on the land instead of the property. And vacant land gets taxed at a higher rate.'”
[Source: Michael Clancy, Arizona Republic] — Phoenix had a record number of complaints about weeds, junked cars, and other violations of city law in the past fiscal year. Officials took in 57,989 complaints from residents about their neighbors, an increase of 6% from the previous year. The city allows anonymous callers to lodge complaints. The city responds with a letter to the subject of the complaint, then sends an inspector to visit. Sam McAllen of the city’s Neighborhood Services Department said 85% of the complaints are resolved before the inspector makes a second visit. The number of cases was a 49% jump from five years ago.
Jerome Miller, director of Neighborhood Services, said aging neighborhoods are harder to maintain, and that the poor economy may have turned people’s attention and money away from exterior maintenance to more important matters such as food and medicine. Inspectors find that complaints come in from all over town. No neighborhood is exempt from the storage buildings constructed without permits, the grass that has grown too high, the junker in the front yard or broken-down fencing. But Miller said some of the older and poorer parts of town have bigger challenges than newer and wealthier neighborhoods. “There are different needs in different neighborhoods,” Miller said, adding that many newer areas of the city are governed by homeowners associations, which are even stricter than the city’s rules.
And a tough economy does not help. “When your choice is repainting your house or buying your medicine, the house might just have to wait.” But generally, the calls follow efforts by the department to let people know about so-called code violations and what they can do about them. “Current policy is that we work from a complaint-based system,” Miller said. “We get the information into the system and take care of the cases.” Residents need to take the lead when an entire area shows signs of deterioration. When that happens, he said, the city can respond with various resources, including police. [Note: To report blight in your neighborhood, call 602-262-7844, send an e-mail, or complete an online form.]
[Source: Laurie Roberts, Arizona Republic] — Interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed over the past few days. A lot of people seem to think Phoenix is a lovely place to live. They’re giving me a hard time for giving the mayor a hard time for the shabby state of Tom Alexander’s neighborhood. But here’s the thing I’ve noticed, as they spring to the defense of Phil Gordon and Phoenix in the wake of my Saturday column: Most of them live in Surprise or Chandler or some place other than Phoenix. Here’s Jim: “Are you actually shocked that this gentleman’s street is not like it once was or as he had hoped it would be 35 years later?”
No, not shocked, but saddened that a guy like Alexander, a man who went to war for his country and worked hard all his life, must now be ashamed of the street where he lives. Saddened and surprised that such a thing would occur in the city run by North America’s best mayor. Surely the pride of the continent would notice that his city has a problem. And put up a fight.
While it’s great to work on boosting downtown, most people’s views of their city come from the place they live. Their street. Their neighborhood. And frankly, the view isn’t so good in whole sections of this town. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]