County Council Discusses Blighted Property Issues

They’re asking for ideas from the public on dealing with this problem.



Frederick, Md (KM). Vacant and dilapidated buildings, tall grass, and inoperable cars and appliances strewn around the yard are just a problem in the city of Frederick. The county has deal it as well. The County Council discussed that issue during a workshop on Tuesday.

Councilman Jerry Donald began the discussion, asking if there could be a different way of looking at this problem. “Should we consider the impact that blight has neighboring property values? Do you think it’s part of our public policy” Or do you think that’s something we should stay away from,” he asked.

These abandoned and blight properties can deter economic development, increase crime, create safety hazards and reduce property values, according to background submitted by Councilman Donald.

County Fire Marshal Kenny Poole said his staff has to deal with this issue, especially houses which have been vacant for some time. He says it can be difficult trying to find the owners of the property, especially if it  has been foreclosed, and get them to make improvements. “These properties change bank hands and lender hands so many times. that you may make contact with a bank or a lender, and they’ll resolve the issue then. And then 60 or 90 days, or maybe next year, it comes back up again. Now you’re starting over because that lender has sold that loan to somebody else and now you’re dealing with a whole ‘nother entity,” he said.

Fire Chief Tom Owens says fire fighters run into this issue  when answering fire calls. One problem in particular is hoarding. “The increase accumulation of combustible materials increases the fire loading that our fire fighters encounter. It also inhibits the points of egress for the occupants to get out,” he says.

“It’s a wicked problem. It really is,” Chief Owens says. “The answer is very, very difficult to come to. But what we can tell you, I think, collectively as a staff is there is very little we can do right now under the current authorities we do have to address this problem adequately.”:

Currently, the county’s ordinances approach this problem as a nuisance, and a danger to public health, safety and welfare. Chief Administrative Officer Ray Barnes says the county staff investigates after receiving citizen complaints, and tries to bring the property owner into compliance. But the county won’t go after properties just because they’re unattractive or reduce property values. “If you want to go in that direction, that’s going to take additional legislative authority on our part which are not intending to ask for,” he says.

Councilman Donald didn’t propose any legislation, but encouraged his colleagues on the board and the public to give this issue some thought, and bring forward some ideas.

But Councilman Tony Chmelik said no matter how the county addresses this problem, it will run into the issue of private property rights. “I’ve had folks ask me, constituents, I want you to get in there and clean it up. Soon as we start trying to do something like that, we’ve kind of crossed that line because I don’t want you  coming on my property. I don;t you coming over here and telling me ‘I don’t want that skid loader that you have parked in your driveway, Tony. It doesn’t look good,'” he said.


By Kevin McManus