Oak Ridge officials could prohibit animated electronic signs, expand the city’s residential rental inspection district to include about 1,700 homes, and officially set up an Oak Ridge Land Bank Corp. during a Monday night meeting.
The Oak Ridge City Council will also consider approving contracts with economic development consultant Ray Evans and state lobbyist Bill Nolan, and terminating the lease on the building that once housed the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic on Badger Road. Now partially empty, the split-level two-story building still houses the Oak Ridge Civic Music Association, and city officials said they haven’t decided what to do with it yet.
The Monday night City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom.
The electronic sign ordinance revisions have been under development since last year. Business owners opposed the city’s initial proposal and approach, but during the past six months, the municipal staff, Municipal Planning Commission, Chamber of Commerce, sign industry representatives, and residents have collaborated to clarify the regulations, officials said.
Under the proposed revisions, the electronic signs would have to be static—showing their messages for at least five seconds—and they could not be animated. Animated video or continuous scrolling of messages would be prohibited. Ground signs would have to be at least 100 feet from residential areas or public parks, and pole-mounted signs would have to be at least 200 feet away.
The revisions would also govern signs used for sporting events, set maximum brightness levels, and require signs to automatically dim through photo cell technology. The changes were recommended in a 7-1 vote by the Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission in June.
City officials had worked to strike a balance between residents who found some of the signs to be distracting or obnoxious, and businesses who said they are effective.
The residential rental inspection ordinance would expand the current inspection district from the Highland View Redevelopment Area to the Manhattan District Overlay, which includes Highland View and a swath of properties north of Oak Ridge Turnpike from East Drive in east Oak Ridge to Bryn Mawr Circle in west Oak Ridge. The MDO also includes properties in the Woodland, Scarboro, and Burnham Woods neighborhoods.
The City Council approved an inspection ordinance in 2007 that applied to Highland View, but the program was not implemented. Tennessee law allows Oak Ridge to create residential rental inspection districts and inspect homes within the districts that are deteriorated or deteriorating.
The current ordinance includes an initial inspection as well as periodic and follow-up inspections. There is a provision for a $50-per-day penalty for owners who refuse to comply.
Oak Ridge Community Development Director Kathryn Baldwin said the city has taken a more proactive role during the past year in nuisance abatement and grant-supported acquisition and demolition of the worst properties, both rental and owner-occupied.
“To date, there are repeated cases of property neglect and substandard housing that could effectively be addressed by an expanded rental inspection program,” Baldwin said.
She said the Manhattan District Overlay, or MDO, has about 1,724 rental units out of a total of 5,520 residential dwellings. Roughly 31 percent of the homes in the MDO are rentals and would be subject to the inspection ordinance, Baldwin said.
“The decision to focus on rental property within the MDO was proposed to address the ongoing deterioration of our rental housing stock and public calls for an effective measure designed to combat rental property blight,” she said.
City officials said land banks are one of the tools that can be used to help return vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties to productive use, including potential housing or public use.
Oak Ridge has acquired 12 residential properties through various funding sources during the past year, and those homes are available for immediate transfer to the Oak Ridge Land Bank Corp., Baldwin said. Four of the properties are being demolished, one is a donated lot with a house suitable for rehabilitation, and seven have been demolished and are ready for use.
Oak Ridge officials said the land bank is one of several initiatives the city is working on to improve housing stock and other land uses. Tennessee officials have agreed to let Oak Ridge serve as a pilot city for the state’s first-ever land bank.
“This designation was bestowed upon the City of Oak Ridge because of a myriad of social and economic factors that included the large number of legacy World War II-era housing structures originally constructed as temporary residential dwellings in support of the war that are now in deteriorated and unsafe or otherwise unfit condition,” Baldwin said. “There exists a crisis in many cities and their metro areas caused by disinvestment in real property and resulting in a significant amount of vacant and abandoned property. This condition of vacant and abandoned property represents lost revenue to the city and large costs associated with demolition, safety hazards, and spreading deterioration of neighborhoods including resulting mortgage foreclosures.”
The Monday night meeting agenda is available here.