Mount Airy officials have stepped up efforts in recent years to rid the city of dilapidated houses, and are now targeting commercial properties.
Commissioner Steve Yokeley, who is spearheading this movement, believes that addressing the problem of substandard commercial structures locally is long overdue.
“We have several high-profile commercial buildings that have continued to deteriorate,” Yokeley said during a recent meeting, when he brought that issue to the table.
Based on discussion then, Mount Airy has strict guidelines for residential housing to ensure the health and safety of occupants, but lacks the same degree of regulation for business properties.
Yokeley believes it’s time to develop a set of commercial building codes similar to what Mount Airy has for housing.
“I know it will take a lot of work, but I feel it is necessary.”
The majority of the other commissioners agreed, voting 4-1 last Thursday night to move forward with that process. Commissioner Jon Cawley was the dissenter.
Yokeley said complaints about conditions of buildings have come from tenants of some of those he’s concerned about, adding that strong codes are needed to ensure basic items such as roofs that do not leak and windows being in good condition.
As a board member who also has been one of the staunchest supporters of efforts to eliminate or improve substandard housing, Yokeley said he was under the impression that commercial properties would also be addressed. But he sounded miffed during the meeting that this has not, in fact, occurred.
“I think we need to move forward with commercial codes,” Yokeley said. “We’ve put it off long enough.”
Fellow members’ concerns
While other commissioners supported Yokeley’s desire to proceed with that, as evidenced by the 4-1 vote, there were concerns raised among them as well as by Cawley.
“What’s involved with getting all this up to standards?” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley asked, while Mayor David Rowe — though not participating in the vote — questioned what developing the tougher commercial codes might cost.
The board’s Dean Brown was concerned about the impact of those regulations on the local business community.
“We don’t want to run off any businesses,” Brown said.
Yokeley responded that the present situation also is scaring away businesses.
Commissioner Jim Armbrister, a former police officer, said the enforcement part of the equation must be taken into consideration. It presumably would require much additional work by Planning Department staff members, who oversee minimum housing code violations.
As with other issues in the past, it’s easy to pinpoint problems, but having such a new set of rules will be pointless “if we don’t have the teeth to enforce it,” Armbrister said.
Yokeley said he believes one of the first steps should be checking with other municipalities to learn how they regulate commercial properties to glean ideas that could be applied here.
Cawley criticized how the city government always seems to be concerned with ways people elsewhere handle issues, yet Mount Airy is a place where many want to come, and he implied that it should chart its own path.
As a board member who tends to advocate less governmental intervention in citizens’ lives — which has been manifested in past concerns of his regarding substandard residential housing — Cawley also cited the socioeconomic signal being sent with aggressive building code enforcement:
“If you’re not upper-middle class, you’re not welcome,” he said, while also wondering where such scrutiny will end.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.