While Astoria has been hailed in recent years as a city in the midst of an architectural renaissance, the town also has a number of highly visible vacant structures that detract from its positive image.


In fact, officials say they receive more complaints about derelict buildings than about any other issue in Astoria.


The term "derelict" refers to buildings that are boarded up, vacant, or in obvious disrepair.


To address the problem, one of the city council's current goals is to create an ordinance regarding structural eyesores, whether they be chronically empty storefronts or severely rundown residential properties.


A recent public presentation by the city highlighted the derelict building issue, how the city has dealt with it so far, and what's next.


Astoria's approach to rundown properties has evolved over time. In the 1980s, city code provided for demolition of structures even if they had historic value.


In the 1990s, the city began a shift to its current philosophy of favoring restoration and renovation over razing. But despite successful efforts by various developers to rejuvenate rundown sections of town, Astoria's most prominent derelict buildings are some of the most visible to visitors.


As the city looks to develop a new code, it will likely address exterior issues only. Even so, officials realize it's a delicate issue.


"Therein lies the challenge," said City Planner Rosemary Johnson. "To write a code strong enough to deal with problem properties, yet flexible enough to not take away private property rights. We want a code that will be applicable to all and fair to all."


Officials also say they want enforceable standards that will encourage building owners to keep structures and sidewalks well maintained.


Current city regulations include a "dangerous building" code that allows officials to declare a building dangerous if it meets standards of a threat to life and safety.


But there is currently no code to address the issue of buildings that are eyesores, but aren't a direct threat to public safety.


Instituting a city ordinance to deal with derelict buildings would incur increased costs, such as staff time to address concerns, document fees, attorney and court costs for contested issues, and costs to purchase buildings via eminent domain, foreclosure or other legal means.


Eminent domain is a legal term that describes the right of government to take over private property for public use.


Possible funding sources to finance derelict building mitigation efforts include a dedicated building fund, community development block grants, sales of seized properties, and possible general obligation bonds to fund property acquisition and restoration programs.


As staff works to develop a draft code, they'll consider what types of problems to address, and what level of enforcement is appropriate.


Draft code revisions will be reviewed by the planning commission and discussed at a work session slated for November.