City to consider commercial building ordinance

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Pawhuska city councilors on Sept. 14 held an initial discussion of a proposed ordinance to regulate abandoned commercial structures.

City Attorney John Heskett said he didn't anticipate councilors would immediately be ready to vote on the proposed ordinance, given that they had just received copies of it.

"I know you just got it," Heskett said to councilors, as he encouraged them to review the document. He explained that the ordinance would give the city additional leverage in taking action regarding dilapidated commercial buildings.

The definition of "abandoned building" in the draft ordinance specifies that it applies to any commercial building "that is not currently occupied, is detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare of the inhabitants of and visitors to the city, and damages or devalues abutting and nearby real properties, or is declared unsecured or dilapidated" under terms set forth in Oklahoma law.

The proposed ordinance provides for public hearings regarding abandoned commercial properties, and it contains language regarding exemptions.

City Manager Tonya Bright said that Pawhuska has downtown commercial structures that are "falling apart" and nothing appears to have been done to remedy their condition.

As things stand now, the city's Code Enforcement officer deals with commercial property owners and attempts to resolve problems in consultation with them, Bright said. If property owners and the Code Enforcement officer are unable to reach some resolution, then they may bring their dispute to her, she said in response to a question from Councilor Steve Tolson.

Code Enforcement Officer Steve Hughes said the proposed ordinance would help in trying to deal with absentee property owners from out of state.

"This is something that a lot of towns and cities are going to," Hughes said. He described the ordinance as potentially "another tool in my tool belt."

Councilor Amber Nash said that Pawhuska has vacant downtown commercial properties that that amount to "a tinderbox waiting to happen."

In other discussion Sept. 14 regarding commercial properties and business development, the city's economic development officer, Kelly Bland, told councilors that a couple of commercial properties had been purchased recently and others are currently for sale. She characterized the commercial real estate market in Pawhuska as active, with plenty of promise for new businesses to open soon.

Bland also advised city councilors Sept. 14 that it would be wise to undertake a process of long-term master planning for the types of development that would be preferable in specific portions of the municipality.

"We can have a vision for each one of those districts," Bland said, as she talked about dividing the city into districts for targeted development.

The council also tabled Sept. 14 a vote on action to begin the process of transferring some lots to the Osage Nation for purposes of an outdoor health and recreation project that the tribe is pursuing. Councilor Rodger Milleson had a question about at least one of the parcels concerned, and Bright did not immediately have an answer for his question.