In an effort to ensure the safety and structural integrity of commercial properties in the central business district, the City of Independence building inspector and fire chief will soon begin a coordinated process of joint building inspections.
Building Inspector Don Cushing explained the building safety evaluations are a requirement of the Minimum Maintenance Standard implemented by the city in January 2017 for commercial properties in the downtown area. He said the scheduled building walk-throughs will be designed to identify any obvious safety hazards related to the structural soundness of the buildings (roofs, foundations, footings, floors, ceilings, walls, etc.) as well as any fire hazards that might be present, such as absent or non-functioning fire extinguishers, clutter blocking exits or electrical panels, improper utility shut-off mechanisms, etc.
“In most cases, we expect the inspections to be brief and problem-free,” Cushing said. “The sole purpose is to ensure our commercial properties are safe for those who live, work and shop in them every day.”
Cushing said the inspections are expected to begin the week of January 22, and continue throughout the year in the 25-block central business district. All property owners will receive a letter of notification in advance of their scheduled visit and will have the opportunity to reschedule if necessary. He also noted that property owners are responsible for informing tenants in their buildings about the scheduled inspections and ensuring the team has access to all areas of the buildings when inspecting.
Additionally, owners of vacant commercial property which has remained unoccupied for an extended period of time – 12 months or more – without promotion for sale or lease also will soon be receiving notification about a new requirement to register their vacant buildings with the city.
Safety and Code Enforcement Director David Cowan explained the new registry is being established so the city can be vigilant about long-vacant properties and the additional safety concerns that sometimes accompany them.
“While we are all very proud of our historic downtown, we understand the challenges that come with maintaining these aging buildings,” Cowan said. “In the case of buildings that are unoccupied, that challenge is even greater, as often these buildings receive less attention and are prone to deterioration, vandalism and other safety concerns.”
The process of registering a vacant building requires the completion of a registration form, including an outline of future plans for the property, as well as payment of a $100 fee. The property must be re-registered annually as long as the status remains the same.
However, for vacant properties that recently have been marketed for sale or lease or will be marketed within 90 days of notification from the city, registration will not be required, Cowan said.
Additionally, newly marketed properties will be eligible for a waiver of fees for zoning, sanitation and sewer services for a period of 90 days.
“Our objective is to work with the building owners to ensure optimal safety of their properties and offer them incentives that may assist them in selling or leasing their buildings to make them functional, viable contributors to our downtown district,” Cowan said.