JANESVILLE

Peeling and chipped paint covers the dilapidated brick and concrete building at Rockport Road and Washington Street.

Rusty grates cover broken windows on one side. Weathered wood conceals windows on the other. Tame graffiti defaces—perhaps improves—the exterior.

The building's contents, visible through the broken glass, include a Mobil gas station sign and an old car. The vehicle was once robin’s egg blue, but the color has faded beneath a thick layer of dust.

The building has been vacant so long, city officials can only speculate what it used to be. It might have been a print shop, then storage space for the owner. Now, it likely awaits a pending raze or repair order, city Housing Services Director Kelly Bedessem said.

The building is one of 101 properties listed on the city’s newly compiled vacant building registry. The registry is designed to give Janesville officials more comprehensive knowledge of where such properties are located and provides them with a contact person for each building in case of emergency.

Registration requires the property owner, which sometimes can be an out-of-state bank, to pay a $200 fee and identify a responsible caretaker within 90 miles of Janesville. That’s helpful if there’s a crime, fire or other problem at the building, Bedessem said.

“If you had a fire and had to locate who was responsible, now we have a name,” she said. “Especially for these bank ones. Try getting a hold of Chase Bank in Paducah, Kentucky. It’s like a four-day process to get a human.”

Of the 101 buildings, 94 are residential, and seven are commercial. Seven of the 94 residential properties have been removed from the list because they are no longer considered vacant, Vacant Building Coordinator Corey Passer said.

Passer started inspecting buildings in May. His approach was reactive and proactive—visiting properties in foreclosure or ones residents complained about while also driving through the city looking for possible vacancies, he said.

He never went inside any building. If one appeared vacant, he sent a letter to the owner asking for more information to see if it was being used or if it met one of the city’s exemptions, he said.

Some of those exemptions include buildings being renovated or actively offered for sale, lease or rent. The city ordinance also exempted “snowbird” residences occupied for three or more months of the year.

Bedessem said the ordinance was based on similar policies in other municipalities. The exemptions were designed to be fair and flexible for property owners.

The exemptions resulted in a database considerably smaller than the city was expecting. Bedessem had estimated there might be 1,000 vacant properties in Janesville, but so far only 10 percent of her estimate has qualified for the list.

Notable commercial properties that did meet the city’s vacancy criteria include the Monterey Hotel downtown and the former Toys ‘R’ Us on Milton Avenue. Other seemingly empty properties didn’t qualify for various reasons:

  • Former Burger King at Centerway and Academy Street: The building is listed for sale and should be sold soon.
  • Former dry cleaner building on Centerway and Jackson Street: While the building might seem empty from the street, Aramark uses the back half of the property.
  • Former Accudyne building at Franklin and Ravine streets: The building has an occupancy permit for storage.
  • Former Town and Country restaurant at River and Dodge streets: The three-storefront complex is listed for sale.
  • Blackhawk Apartments at Milwaukee Street and Atwood Avenue: While part of this building is empty, there are still residents who live there. If at least 5 percent of a building is occupied with a tenant or business, it is not considered vacant.
  • Former Riverfront Center on Milwaukee Street: The property has active building permits for renovation.
  • Various vacant storefronts on West Milwaukee Street: Many of these have people living in the upper floors.

Passer said judging whether a property is listed for sale could lead to a lot of gray areas. If there was a “for sale” sign in the window, he called to see whether it was functional and to check if the asking price was reasonable.

Some owners were more active in marketing their buildings than others. The city might need to tighten this exemption in the ordinance, he said.

Still, Bedessem said, the ordinance’s goal was to record buildings clearly in disrepair. There could be other vacancies not on the registry, but the city might not know about them if the property is well-kept.

Residential properties, which make up the registry’s overwhelming majority, might have gone vacant if they were foreclosed or if a landlord walked away from rental property management.

The registry will hopefully convince those property owners to renovate those homes and get them back on the market, Bedessem said.

“Ideally, we would like responsible property owners to make the best use out of those properties, especially if it’s one where the landlord has just walked. List it, put it up for sale,” she said.

“We have a housing shortage in town. It’s a seller’s market. It would be in their best interest if they’re not going to use it to offload it.”

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