Burlington to consider tighter restrictions for vacant, unsafe buildings

Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 4:44 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington City Council is taking steps to protect firefighters and the community from hazardous buildings following a fire in an abandoned property earlier this year. The proposed ordinance would encourage vacant and hazardous buildings to be torn down or fixed to allow for more housing.

The King Street apartment fire in January 2021 claimed the lives of two people. A second fire the following February finally led to the building being torn down. It’s safety issues like these that City Council President Karen Paul, D-Ward 6, says led her to rework an existing law about vacant buildings to impose stiffer fines on property owners who leave buildings vacant with no plan in sight. “The idea behind the changes to the ordinance is to tighten up those requirements and hold property owners accountable -- that if they have a vacant building they need to do something with that building,” she said.

The measure heads to the Ordinance Committee this coming week. The city’s Bill Ward says vacant and dangerous buildings are not a widespread issue -- with around 10 to 20 properties at any given time. “If you do have a vacant building, you should want it to be brought back quickly into some useful condition for the city and for their own financial benefit. You definitely -- as a property owner -- don’t want someplace that’s a danger to the public or to emergency responders,” he said.

The ordinance sets timelines for property owners to take care of the buildings, such as obtaining a vacant building permit that is not automatically renewable. The property owner has three months with a permit to notify the city if they plan to rehab, demolish, or sell the property. Otherwise, they will face fines. If the building cannot be made safe, they will then have 45 days to take the building down.

There are also new regulations to protect firefighters. Placards will be posted on unsafe buildings to notify first responders about issues, and when it was last inspected.

“The amount of time you have to read the computers in the truck and what is going on is limited, so having that visual indicator on the building when we show up just gives us a lot of information in a short time; just means how safe is the building to go in, are we going to go in to fight the fire, and is it safe to do that,” said Burlington Fire Marshall Matthew Stone.

Some of the language in the ordinance related to protecting firefighters was informed by changes Worcester, Massachusetts made to their city rules after six firefighters were killed in a warehouse fire in 1999.

Related Story:

Burlington apartment building demolished following 2 fires