Will Arlington benefit from the newly adopted bylaw requiring owners to register, maintain, and seek to fill vacant storefronts?
Alyssa Krimsky Clossey
Cofounder, Support Arlington Center
With the establishment of this newly adopted vacant storefront bylaw, Arlington will be able to help protect the welfare and economic growth of our town. Landlords will no longer be able to sit on empty property in silence.
The measure requires commercial and industrial property owners to register their vacant properties and thereby ensure the safety and proper maintenance of those facilities, while actively seeking new renters. If landlords fail to comply, they will be fined $100 per day, per facility. With this bylaw in place, Arlington can monitor properties to preserve neighborhood integrity, prevent blight, and protect property values.
The increase of vacant commercial properties in town affects the very fabric of our central business district. Arlington Center now has more than 15 vacant commercial properties, several of which have been empty for three years, and a number of them are contiguous. Requiring landlords to prove they are seeking tenants will encourage them to fill empty spaces. The bylaw’s fine structure may also make landlords consider reducing their rental rates to fill the properties.
The town has offered to waive the yearly registration fee for landlords with empty properties if they agree to place public art installations in the vacant storefronts. This creative incentive will help maintain a level of community involvement and add artistic expression to dark storefronts, helping the commercial streets remain vibrant.
In a survey conducted in June by Support Arlington Center, the local advocacy group I cofounded, more than 300 town residents and business owners said they “highly value the diversity – both in type and affordability – of restaurants and shops, and local quality of businesses,” as well as “the walkability and livability of our center.”
Additionally, our community’s master plan emphasized the importance of a vibrant center with a strong tax base, encouraging property owners to make storefront improvements and promoting commercial opportunities. With the establishment of the bylaw, landlords can become more involved in the desires of the community. In addition, it allows the town to take action on the vacant storefront situation while working towards implementing the goals for the town center embraced by the residents, business owners, and community as a whole.
John Dunn Jr.
Arlington Town Meeting member, small business owner
As a Town Meeting member, I recently voted against the warrant article revising the bylaw concerning vacant commercial properties in Arlington. I do understand and appreciate the basis of the article. As a small business owner in the town, I do not believe having vacant storefronts is good for local businesses. We need these storefronts filled with vibrant businesses, which in turn will bring more people to the area. And I do agree that property owners should maintain their property in accordance with all state and local codes as stated in Section 5 of the article.
However, if the property owner maintains the property so that it does not create a safety hazard, space is clean, taxes are paid and the utilities are on, I do not know if this article could even be legally enforced. Moreover, if the property owner is supposed to make the property not appear vacant, as also stated in Section 5, I believe this will make the property more difficult to rent as public awareness of its availability is reduced.
In regards to the filings, fees. and possible penalties associated with the bylaw, I do not believe the 21 days it requires to prepare a property for rent is a reasonable amount of time. This process would likely take one to three months to accomplish. Anyone failing to meet the required timeline would face penalty fees of $100 per day. A month vacancy could cost a property owner $3,000. This creates a financial hardship for most landlords who count on rental income to cover their costs.
Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, questioned in a recent newspaper story whether the imposed penalties were the best approach to this problem. Richard Taylor, director of the Center for Real Estate at Suffolk University, said in the same story that it seemed like a punitive strategy.
I believe this article was created due to one or two property owners who have allowed several storefronts to remain vacant for several months. The vast majority of landlords want to lease their properties as quickly as possible, and any additional fees and penalties creates an even more challenging situation for them.