The Common Council is weighing a new zoning ordinance that would levy fines against commercial property owners who fail to lease out their storefronts in a timely manner. Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman said that he proposed the new law in response to property owners who, he believes, are not making a good faith effort to market and lease properties in the city’s business districts.
“Vacant storefronts are a blight on the community,” said Tallerman, a Democrat. “They bring down real estate values, they bring down the well being of the community, they are all around bad.”
Tallerman’s proposal would target commercial properties with storefronts that have stood vacant for six months or more. The law would only apply to buildings in the city’s Stockade district, the Broadway commercial corridor and the Rondout business district. Owners of long vacant storefronts would be hit with monthly fees. Those fees would be set at $300 per month for retail spaces between 500 and 2,000 square feet and $600 per month for those between 2,000 and 4,000 square feet. Under an early draft of the proposal the largest commercial properties would face monthly fines of $100,000, but Tallerman said that figure would likely be lowered in the final version.
Tallerman added that the law would exempt property owners who could demonstrate a valid reason for not finding tenants. “We will definitely make exceptions for owners who are having hardships,” said Tallerman. “But they would have to prove that they are actively marketing their property at a fair price.”
Tallerman said he introduced the legislation to combat what he believed was an increasingly speculative real estate market in the city’s business districts. Tallerman said he believes new investors were buying buildings at high prices and leaving them vacant as tax write-offs while waiting for their resale value to increase. Meanwhile, Tallerman said, the increase in vacant storefronts was hurting existing businesses.
“People are hoping for appreciation [in property values] which is what they’re used to in New York City, but it’s not something that happens here,” said Tallerman. “In Kingston you don’t make money on appreciation, you make it on current cash flow.”
Tallerman’s proposal is currently before the Common Council’s Laws & Rules Committee. Council Majority Leader Rennie Scott Childress (D-Ward 3) said he supports the legislation and believes that “some version” of the proposal would be enacted. Scott-Childress said the committee would work to figure out a fee schedule that creates an incentive for property owners to fill storefronts, without being overly burdensome.
“I think what it will come down to is finding the right number that will actually motivate a property owner to act,” said Scott-Childress.