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Red-tagged: City targets dilapidated commercial buildings

FOR THE RECORD:  This story has been updated to correctly describe a previous version of the dilapidated buildings ordinance. 

A strip mall at the intersection of Juan Tabo and Central that was once home to a Furr’s Super Market, a Vietnamese restaurant and a bingo parlor — among others — has been an eyesore for more than a decade, city officials say, and the owners won’t do anything about it.

ABQ Mayor Tim Keller staples a red tag onto a substandard building at Juan Tabo Boulevard and Central Avenue on Tuesday afternoon. A pilot project is targeting dilapidated commercial properties in the city. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

There are no cars parked on the lot peppered with shabby and browning pines fronting faded and boarded up façades, but there is a shopping cart laden with someone’s belongings.

“I get so many complaints from the community about this property,” said District 9 City Councilor Don Harris. “It is private property, but they have responsibilities.”

The city hopes to soon have the place cleaned up through a pilot program aimed at tackling dilapidated commercial buildings, enacted through legislation Harris cosponsored last year.

Harris, along with Mayor Tim Keller and members of the city’s Planning Department, gathered at the strip mall Tuesday afternoon, and Keller stapled a bright red sign to a boarded-up window declaring it a “substandard building.”

The pilot program, initiated in districts 6 and 9, stipulates the owners of the property have 60 days to remediate the property before the city attorney will be authorized to file a complaint in district court.

A vacant strip mall, including what used to be Jack’s Step Inn Lounge, has been red-tagged by the city’s Planning Department. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“This intersection right here has been holding back this entire part of our city for about a decade,” Keller said. “We are taking back our community one block at a time, and it’s starting right here at this intersection.”

After the Juan Tabo property, the mayor went to structures at Eubank and Central and on Silver to post notices there as well.

Planning Department spokeswoman Carmelina Hart said around 30 dilapidated commercial structures have been identified in the two districts so far.

Hart said the department received a funding bump up to $425,000 for the incoming fiscal year, $125,000 of which will be used to hire two additional code enforcement specialists.

The remaining $300,000 will be used to secure or demolish neglected structures.

Harris said prior to the ordinance, it was difficult to address properties that were in bad shape but not to the point of being declared nuisance properties, meaning they had been used for criminal activities.

“If they weren’t violating some sort of law, we couldn’t do anything,” he said.

Owners of dilapidated properties also must pay $500 to register with the Planning Department.

A previous version of the ordinance had required all owners of vacant commercial properties to register with the department, but that was scrapped after outcry from the industry.

Lynne Andersen, president of the New Mexico chapter of NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association, said the group hasn’t taken a stance on the current iteration, but will keep an eye on the pilot program.

“Residential or commercial, the goal is to keep your properties up to code and maintained,” she said.

The pilot program will be reviewed after two years to determine its efficacy.