A Charlotte City Council committee today unanimously approved a proposed new code for nonresidential (i.e. commercial) buildings. This isn't a building code – those already exist. It's akin to a housing code, only it applies to buildings that aren't housing. I'll add a link soon as the city PR folks send me a pdf version. The draft ordinance isn't posted online.
It'll likely be up for final action on Sept. 28.
The issue is important for neighborhoods where retailers have left buildings behind and the buildings sit, empty, for months. (Take a look at the photo above, of the old Albemarle Road Upton's, built in 1978, photo taken in May.) Sometimes the vacancy occurs because a retail chain goes belly up; other times the company opens a new store, typically on a suburban greenfield site, and leaves the older building. Those vacant and decaying stores have the effect of signalling to other retailers: "Don't move here, retail doom awaits!" And the aura of decay can send a clear signal to other potential investors, too, of an area in decline.
The new code has been in the works since February 2008, when the council told staff to study and develop one. The council's Housing and neighborhood Development Committee has reviewed it three times: April, May and July, and a public hearing was Aug. 24.
To their credit, the city planners have begun pushing developers of new big box stores to agree to language in the rezoning agreement that puts some requirements on the retailer if the store goes vacant: keep up the building, help market it to new tenants, don't put a noncompete clause on the property. But that doesn't give the city any leverage against abandoned commercial properties built without any such requirements.
The city currently requires vacant nonresidential properties to be secure. The new code would extend to occupied buildings, and would require properties to be sanitary and safe, too. It would require property owners to maintain exterior walls, roofs, windows, etc. Broken windows and doors, holes in roofs and walls, garbage on the site and rodent or insect infestations would be potential violations. Near as I can tell, there's very little opposition to it from anywhere, so it should pass easily in a few weeks.
(And an aside, to forestall the inevitable suggestions that abandoned big box stores should be turned into public schools: School architects have studied that suggestion and concluded that state building requirements for schools make renovation of old big box stores more expensive than building from scratch. A charter school on North Tryon went into an abandoned K mart, but charter schools don't have to follow the same building rules as regular public schools. )