Towns Can’t Force Commercial Property Owners to Report Vacancies

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Re: The Yorktown Chamber of Commerce’s Oct. 13-19 letter about chronic vacancies and the town’s proposed law to require the owners of vacant buildings to report to the town.

We all agree on the same end: The need to find new tenants and/or uses for our long-vacant commercial spaces. The problem: By what means? Alas, the solution is not as simple as requiring a property owner to “report” to the town efforts to lease or sell a property.

Here are some of the practical and legal issues.

Free enterprise or socialism. We’re a free enterprise country. Within limits, like zoning, a town can’t tell a property owner what to do with his or her property. If the federal tax laws allow an owner to maximize his profit or reduce his taxes by keeping his building vacant, a town can’t change that business decision. Nor can the town change state tax certiorari laws that allow property owners to challenge their assessment when vacancies reduce the property’s income. 

Nor can the town require a business to locate in an existing vacant space instead of constructing a new building. This was very clearly explained at a recent Planning Board meeting where the new Atlantic Appliance building was approved.

Promoting new development can create more vacancies. Before the new CareMount facility was built, the medical group had offices in several existing buildings. The group’s business decision to consolidate into one building created vacancies in those buildings. Good for CareMount, but now more vacancy signs in Yorktown.  

The legality of a reporting requirement. I’m not a lawyer, but I’d like to hear from the town attorney on the legality of the town requiring a property owner to report on his efforts to lease or sell his property when its being maintained, taxes are being paid and is not a blight on the town. 

The town has other, more productive options for addressing the vacancy problem. Instead of feel-good but meaningless reports, the town, working with property owners, can use its zoning power to assist property owners fill their vacant buildings. It’s been done in the past and it’s being done now with the vacant Toys “R” Us building. But the property owner has to want to fill his space. It should be the owner’s responsibility to search for potential tenants and then come to the town to ask for any necessary and appropriate zoning changes.

Feel-good laws may make for good politics and public relations, but they won’t fill our vacant commercial space.

Susan Siegel
Yorktown Heights

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