In a move that many community activists say was ridiculously overdue, City Council directed Colorado Springs' city government last week to create tough new policies on condemned houses left boarded up and empty.
It took three decades for Council to make the decision, with at least one property on the city's "placard list" having been there since the 1970s.
Now city officials will craft a slate of measures, to be brought before Council early next year, which could include registration fees, periodic inspections and even demolition of properties deemed safety hazards.
Established city ordinances require only that owners maintain an empty building's exterior. Of the city's 70 condemned and empty buildings, 12 currently are boarded up.
In voicing his support for the get-tough plan last week, Councilman Scott Hente ridiculed the current toothless regulations.
"If I pulled my weeds and cleaned up trash and then built a burnt-out, boarded-up structure, then somehow I'd be OK," he said.
His comments could have been directed toward County Commissioner Douglas Bruce, who owns a burnt-out duplex property that is on the list, at 1326 West Kiowa Street. Bruce has kept it boarded up for years, despite protracted legal wrangling over the potentially unsafe structure.
"You have a right to an empty house," Bruce says. "Maybe that's a foreign concept to the pod people who serve on Council.
"They have narrowly tailored an ordinance directed towards me and people like me, because they are envious," he adds.
But community outcry over boarded-up buildings extends beyond Bruce, community activist Jan Doran says. Doran served on a condemned-property task force that pointed to a study in Philadelphia indicating that abandoned houses reduced the value of surrounding homes by more than $6,000.
"People have gotten to the point where they want [the city] to pay attention," she says.
-- Dan Wilcock