Downtown building owner defends vacant property - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Downtown building owner defends vacant property

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April 3, 2008

Albany -- When Albany contractor Eugene McCoy purchased a building in the 500 block of North Jackson Street three years ago, he had big plans for its development.

"It's divided up into five different apartments. We were going to fix it up with all new appliances, upgrade the plumbing, heating, electrical and everything," he says.

But a few weeks ago, McCoy was one of dozens of downtown Albany property owners who received a citation from Albany Code Enforcement saying that his vacant building was in violation of standard housing codes. If he doesn't provide the city with a development plan, the city could take over the property. McCoy doesn't think that's fair.

He says, "Instead of trying to work with the property owners downtown, they're going to come up with an ordinance like this to force everyone to do something."

While city officials say the revitalization effort downtown is meant to clean up the city - McCoy argues the problem is just that - cleaning up the city. He says the more money he invests in his property, the more likely it is going to be targeted by would-be looters.

"I have a police report in my hand that shows that $8000 worth of copper wiring and copper plumbing was tore out of it. And it's because of all the drug users and the alcoholics and the street people that the city's just allowing to sleep on the porches and break into all these buildings and they don't do anything about it."

But according to Albany City Manger Alfred Lott, if you invest in a piece property, there are rules, risks and responsibilities you must take on.

"You have a responsibility to maintain it and secure the property and to keep it up to standards. Those are all choices that people have to make. What we're saying here through our ordinance is that we have standards for our properties in particular those downtown," said Lott.

McCoy says a stronger police presence in the neighborhood is more important than cracking down on property owners. But Lott says that is an essential step in cleaning up downtown.

"I know there is exceptional support from the city that we rid the city of this urban blight. Of course, someone mentioned that Rome wasn't built in a day, and we are willing to work with people to extent of the limits of the ordinance. But we intend to enforce it," says Lott.

And that leaves property owners like Eugene McCoy with two choices: Fix up your building, or risk losing it.

McCoy says he has no problem following the guidelines set by the city if he knew his property would be secure.

He says he doesn't want to see the building sit vacant, but even with it on the market, he says that no one wants to buy.

McCoy hopes to get other property owners to join him in protesting the ordinance.

The city manager says he expected a backlash, but he says the city won't back down.

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