by WES FERGUSON
City officials are getting ready for the “tough process” of requiring downtown property owners to fix up their aging and, in some cases, dilapidated buildings in the historic part of Buda.
The more aggressive code enforcement is set to begin this winter and is part of a broader effort to rejuvenate the downtown neighborhood after years of neglect.
“This is going to be a tough process going forward, but there are a lot of positives that will come out of this,” said Chance Sparks, the city’s planning director. “A more attractive downtown (will lead to) more investment opportunities.”
“The big thing here is we’re trying to prepare the city to start investing more in the downtown area.”
Sparks said that preliminary inspections have turned up frayed and overloaded electrical wiring in the attics of some downtown buildings, which presents a fire hazard. Buckling roofs and structural damage raise concerns as well.
“They’re failing to maintain to such a point that it’s causing the buildings to deteriorate,” he said. “A lot of that is no fault of the business owner. Most of those business owners are leasing.”
The impact on renters such as mom-and-pop shopkeepers is a concern for city leaders, they said. During a city council meeting last month, officials noted that requiring landlords to make costly improvements could lead to rising rents and possible evictions.
“We don’t want tenants leaving,” Sparks said. “We want to make sure we give them every effort to succeed. We don’t want to hit them on the head with a hammer and say good luck.”
To ease the process, the city is working on a new appeals process for property owners who are cited for code violations. City officials are also offering their assistance to help building owners apply for grant money and economic development incentives to help defray expenses.
“Whatever we can do to make them feel good about the change is extremely important,” City Councilwoman Cathy Chilcote said during the Oct. 18 meeting. “It is what it is, and it’s what it’s been for a lot of years. With change will come a lot of stress.”
In other cities, Sparks noted, code violations are addressed gradually, such as during inspections when a new tenant moves in. But the city of Buda didn’t begin requiring such inspections until last year.
As a result, he said, “We’re having to play catch-up. The downtown areas don’t have a lot of turnover in businesses, so as a result, it might be years and years before the opportunity for us to say, ‘Here’s what needs to be fixed.’ We are required to perform regular fire code inspections, but that’s a fairly recent phenomenon.”
Buda Fire Marshal Mike Duffy said fire code violations are not that big of an issue in downtown buildings.
“They’re older businesses,” he said. “I see a lot of electrical issues, a lot of extension cords and stuff because (the structures) weren’t built to handle all the electronics that we seem to put in buildings nowadays.”