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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Improved views

When Shelly Duncan looks out her upstairs window, she is disgusted with what she sees. Shards of glass hang from a broken window of the house next door at 1113 W. Sinto Ave. “If that glass lands on somebody, it could kill them. I don’t have to look directly at it, but it really does make the places on our block look bad,” said Duncan, who has owned her property about 15 years. In September 2003, a fire damaged the neighbor’s house, making it uninhabitable. The house went back to the bank and has been boarded up since.

“It’s not a pretty sight, and it needs to be taken care of. It’s really sad that they’ve let it go this long,” said Duncan, who hopes higher city fees on abandoned buildings will lead to improvements. The City Council in July tripled the annual fees for leaving a house boarded up.

Keresha Riley lives across the street from the West Sinto house.

“I sit on my couch, and that’s the first thing I have to look at.” Riley said. “I don’t like it. I know that this whole neighborhood is tired of it.

“We’ve called and had it boarded up. I called the cops. … They say it’s not a danger to anybody, but the front porch looks like it’s going to come down.”

She said having that house on the block affects the value of their property.

“If we were to sell, they’d say, ‘Oh, my God, I don’t want to look out and have that as my view.’ ”

Both Duncan and Riley said they worry that the yard, full of debris dumped in the long, dried-out grass, is a fire hazard.

Brad Huelett’s printing company is across the street from a commercial building at 1414 N. Belt. The boarded-up building, covered with graffiti and overtaken by weeds, was heavily damaged by a fire in May 2004. The back of the building is used by a taxi business.

“The owner of the building probably hasn’t done anything in the last 15 years,” Huelett said. “Not only do they get hit with a lot of graffiti, but some of it’s been on there for over a year.

“It’s a concern, and it looks bad. It doesn’t give you a safe, comfortable feeling.

“Fortunately we don’t get very many walk-ins, but we do have some people who come here, and they’re wondering if it is safe just because they see that boarded up building,” Huelett said.

Duncan and Dunphy think that a revised city ordinance that increases fees for monitoring and securing boarded-up buildings will help this type of situation.

The ordinance was passed by the City Council on July 18.

In addition to raising the annual fee from $200 to $600, some of the wording in the original ordinance has been clarified, and “abandoned building” and “substandard building” have been defined. The ordinance also outlines the hearing and appeals process.

The greatest challenge for some communities is that they have absentee landlords who have let properties deteriorate and create blight in their neighborhoods, Councilman Al French said.

“Dollars always seem to attract attention” French said. “When you’re talking about basically tripling the fee, that’s got to get somebody’s attention.

“If it doesn’t, we’ll increase it again until we finally get a response.”

Judith Gilmore, of the West Central Neighborhood Council, was involved in conducting an inventory of boarded-up and abandoned buildings in that neighborhood. Gilmore said 59 vacant and neglected buildings were counted in that neighborhood alone.

“We have to get a handle on just how many of these properties we actually have in the city to determine what it might take staff-wise for code enforcement to monitor these,” Gilmore said.

“I’m hopeful that … these property owners who have not paid any attention to their properties will think, ‘If this is going to start costing me money, maybe it’s time that I fix that property or maybe it’s time to sell that property,’ whatever it takes,” Gilmore said.

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