DDA proposes amendment prohibiting downtown vacancies be used for storage

Published 9:12 pm Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday evening, representatives of the Downtown Development Authority addressed the Bainbridge City Council about a proposed amendment that would limit what can be stored in vacant buildings downtown.

“Our focus is to have the zoning ordinance changed so that it is prohibited to use a building in the central business district as storage, and for this ordinance to be enforced,” said Shawn Edwards, owner of Port City Deli and Downtown Merchants Association member. “Many of these buildings are not up to code, which is a major safety concern, for the residents and business owners and property owners.”

Edwards also said that his property was only vacant for two and half years and was — and still is — a big project. If the buildings and properties are allowed to sit in their current conditions, they will only worsen.

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DMA member Rob McRae said that he looked into the vacancy and occupancy rates for the downtown central business district. His findings reflect a correlation between buildings that will be in violation of the proposed code and the vacant buildings.

McRae also found that the downtown business area is at 83 percent occupancy, down from the 95 percent it was at in 2005.

On August 6, an overnight fire burned down almost 10 buildings in downtown Jesup, Ga., where McRae’s uncle is a volunteer firefighter.

“A lot of [the damage] was because they couldn’t get equipment in and fight the fire like they could have,” McRae said.

McRae believes that using the buildings as storage is a fire hazard that could potentially lead to serious issues.

“It is my desire for downtown Bainbridge to remain as attractive and safe as possible, and to successfully accomplish this goal, property owners must make an effort to maintain their buildings and reduce the accumulation of items stored within vacant spaces,” said Julie Harris, chairman of the Bainbridge historic preservation commission.

August 12, the proposed ordinance was presented to the Bainbridge Planning Commission, which tabled the issue to further discuss the verbiage of the ordinance. The council voted to table the issue to allow the Commission further time to reach a recommendation.

The ordinance is a part of the DDA’s Downtown Masterplan. In earlier stages of the plan, member of the public was surveyed.

“One of the questions on the public input survey was, ‘What needs improvement in downtown Bainbridge?’ And the answer was vacancy and blight are downtown’s main ailments,” said Adrienne Harrison, Bainbridge Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director.

“When they sit unattended for a long period of time, their chances of being renewed decreases,” Harrison said.