At the City's roundtable discussion precipitated by the concerns of the Neighbours Against Drugs and Crime Action Group (NADCAG), the condition of the former Strathcona School building on 4th Avenue East was raised. The school gym is still being used as a private facility, but both the fire and police departments have stopped using the building for training purposes. Concerns about mold were part of that decision, according to an Owen Sound Police Services' spokesperson. Graffiti and dark corners worry neighbours.

Recent reports that plans will be coming to Council in 2018 for renovating the building into housing have been received positively in the community, but residents are asking about the City's longer-term plan to keep unoccupied buildings from affecting their neighbourhoods.

The 1850's Grey County courthouse building and adjacent jail on 3rd Avenue East were the subject of two purchase and sale agreements in the past few years, both of which contained a buy-back clause which resulted in both cases in the return of the buildings to the City. They are up for sale once again.

After some discussion on the NADCAG Facebook page, one member wrote about the problems and possible solutions.

- by Tobias van der Wal
A buyback clause for public property isn't unreasonable really. Especially if it is one that affords enough time and especially if there was at least a requirement for the developer to submit an updated plan for every X amount of years, as a way to hold them accountable.
Allowing a developer to purchase public buildings for less than market value, have them apply for property tax rebates (because the building is vacant, even while letting it be used occasionally), then let them sit on it for a decade, all while they pick up more land and buildings to 'rebuild' and again to simply sit on for future use, is illogical for the overall health of the market in town. It allows a handful of investors too much control of the market and allows them to devalue adjacent properties, which in turn causes the average market value (perceived and realized) throughout the town to drop or stagnate. This makes it easy to buy more property...see the cycle here?
If these investors were forced, at the very least, to pay the full property tax on their land, after a grace period for development (which is really the only reason why they should be offered a reduction on their tax in the first place), it may compel them to actually do something with their investment.
A buyback or re-list clause will give other more interested parties a chance to do something with a property, and stimulate the market.
If a building or property is going to be left to rot for years, either tear it down, sell it, or do what you said you were going to do when you bought it and start building. It shouldn't make a difference if the investor is from out of town or not, I personally would welcome any investment in this city of ours if it means that things would get done in a reasonable amount of time and with respect for the neighbourhoods that surround these situations.
What I find most upsetting with these derelict properties is the image that they give to the city. It always makes me cringe when I speak to people from out of town, and the first thing they say to me is often 'what is it with this town and all the buildings falling apart?' or 'Owen Sound is nice and scenic, except for all the boarded up places.' That outward image of a failing town certainly doesn't help entice people (or businesses) to invest or move to this area.
My family and I moved here a few years ago, for the affordable housing and the potential we saw in the future of this place. I keep telling myself that things will improve, trying to be as optimistic as I can, but it's increasingly challenging to keep saying that when all we see is the same empty buildings looking worse each year and the attitudes, resentment and lack of motivation to make real change happen.
This (NADCAG) group is a start for sure, and hopefully, it provides the platform that is needed so desperately to move things in the right direction. I feel this city is at the precipice of positive, meaningful change and growth....or if things remain the same, a long drawn out hollowing of its heart, and the future generations that will leave the first chance they get.

image source: NADCAGFacebook


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