Code officer suggests vacant commercial building regulation

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Pawhuska’s municipal code enforcement officer last week recommended to the City Council that some form of regulation should be considered to discourage investors from buying commercial properties and allowing them to sit vacant.

“Some bigger towns and cities have pretty strict fines if you do nothing with them,” code enforcement officer Steve Hughes said.

Joni Nash, who handles economic development projects for city government, commented that some communities have apparently experienced situations where persons interested in developing commercial property have come into conflict with persons interested in buying it up and letting it sit idle.

“We don’t want somebody just buying up our commercial properties and not using them,” Hughes said. “I think we need to consider that, and I mean yesterday.”

At-Large Alderman Steve Tolson expressed an interest in seeing an example of an ordinance addressing the issue.

Hughes commented during his monthly report to the City Council. The Council did not take any immediate action.

Pawhuska’s downtown district includes structures that have been dramatically improved in recent years for commercial purposes, as well as structures that have been sitting dormant.

Hughes did not single out any specific buildings or property owners.

Another aspect of physical infrastructure where the city needs improvement is its street grid, and the Council on May 3 voted 5-0 to approve an agreement with the Osage Nation to improve stretches of 10th, 11th and 13th streets between Woodward Avenue and Boundary Avenue.

The project is to include correcting any roadway drainage problems. The result is to be a new 3-inch asphalt overlay on the targeted portions of the streets. The Osage Nation is to pay an estimated $175,000 of materials costs, and Osage County crews are to do the work.

Interim City Manager Tonya Bright didn’t have a start date for the project, but said it would be soon.

The Council also received cautionary comments from some department heads about potential supply shortages and cost increases affecting the economy in the coming months.

Public Works Director Mark Chamberlain told the Council he will stay within budget, but may make a large purchase or more than one large purchase of materials. There could be problems coming up soon in regard to the availability of plastic pipe, and iron fittings and manhole covers, he indicated.

Chamberlain told the Journal-Capital it is a shame there are supply shortages in the economy, given that the U.S. Congress is talking about possible infrastructure spending.

Utilities Director Bill Bruce talked about potential shortages in the supply of chlorine and anticipated price increases.

Tonya Bright told the Journal-Capital there has already been some difficulty in getting chlorine for swimming pool use.

Bruce clarified there has been no problem at this point getting chlorine for water supply use, but said the price is likely to go up.

In further business affecting economic development in Pawhuska, the municipal Board of Adjustments/Planning Commission last week voted to recommend to the City Council that bed-and-bath businesses be defined as permitted uses in Residential-General and Residential Single Family areas.

The commission did not take any additional action, but chairman Bill Todd commented that navigating the streets in some areas where bed-and-bath businesses are located can be a problem.

Commission member Stuart Tolson commented that the traffic problems are not because of the bed-and-baths, but because parking ordinances have not been enforced.

“It is what it is and has been for a long time,” commission member Alan Brown said of the parking and traffic situation.

Todd said he thinks it would be good to have the bed-and-baths registered.

Commission member Cody Garnett, citing the relationship between local Airbnb site operators and the company as one between corporation and contract labor, asked if there was any desire to create a registry of everybody who does contract labor and receives a Form 1099.

“What I’m saying is, you don’t go to the state and get a tax number for this,” Garnett said.

City government currently has no business registry, the code enforcement officer and the interim city manager both told the Journal-Capital.