William “Buck” Huber was astounded recently while taking a walk through Hamilton when he saw how wide open the former French Bauer Dairy Building was for children, troublemakers or other people to enter without any effort.
“It’s a neighborhood hazard,” Huber said of the building at 551 N. 6th St. “There’s gigantic holes in the side, and I saw no place that had a ‘No Trespassing’ sign, or anything like that, or even a rope across the entrance.”
He happened to be walking in the area, after strolling near the Great Miami River’s hydraulic canal, and was glad he had his camera with him when he arrived at the former dairy, the location of recent fires. The building is so unstable, Hamilton firefighters are not allowed to enter it.
Huber, who has been retired 27 years, wrote the city’s health department about the situation, sending some of the photos he took.
The building’s easy entry, with areas not boarded up, comes as a surprise to some because Hamilton City Council in October approved an ordinance requiring owners of empty commercial and industrial buildings to register their buildings and secure them, to make entry by trespassers difficult.
Similar laws have been effective in Sandusky and elsewhere in making empty buildings safer and prompting owners to sell vacant ones, but Fire Chief Mark Mercer said the city’s efforts to buckle up buildings against intruders have been delayed because of the coronarivus pandemic.
The city’s vacant property registration ordinance, which required owners of empty commercial or industrial buildings to register and secure their buildings, took effect in January. Among the purposes of the law is for owners to let the city know how to locate them; to secure the buildings and maintain the properties’ conditions and keep the lawns maintained; and to provide firefighters a way to access the buildings’ interiors through uses of lock boxes.
But, “When everything hit with the (COVID-19) pandemic, we really backed off on enforcing things,” Mercer said, “simply because getting people together to get that done was a problem, getting people out of their houses to meet — a lot of the city staff was focusing mostly on the core missions.”
“We were short staffed,” Mercer said. “We’ll require them (the new owner) to register the property and secure it.”
If the building isn’t secured, “we have the ability to contract people to go out and cover the windows, and do whatever they need to do, and bill them back on their taxes,” Mercer said.
Costs of securing the building, if the property owner does not do it, will be borne by the city’s already strained general fund. The amount can be recovered through levies on the property’s taxes, but there is a delay in recovering that money.
The former dairy building has been the site of major fires, including in January, 2019. The property is so unstable that firefighters decided years ago they would not enter it in the event of fires.
Ownership of the building has changed hands recently.
The dairy building “sold in December of ‘18, it sold in August of ’19, it sold in February of ’20, so this thing’s been passed around a little bit,” Mercer said. “That’s three times that it’s sold in the last 20 months.”
Huber hopes something will be done soon to secure the dairy building.
“It’s a neighborhood hazard,” he said.
What should somebody do if they live or work near a troublesome building? Mercer recommends using the city’s “311″ system, which through the city’s website allows people to raise issues about situations that need to be addressed, such as potholes, drug abuse, other crime that does not require an immediate police response and broken traffic signals.
One way to make a 311 request is by going to the city’s website, www.hamilton-oh.gov, and clicking on the box near the top that says, “My Hamilton (311) For Service Requests.”
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