A new Astoria ordinance under consideration would tackle a long-standing predicament within the city limits: neglected, empty, derelict buildings.

Part of the city's downtown shows the need for a solution. A single landlord owns an entire city block on both sides of the main business corridor, and many storefronts there are eyesores: long-empty and rundown.

Past efforts by city officials over decades haven't solved the problem. The proposed 27-page "Derelict Building and Property Maintenance Code" could change that, while shielding the poor, elderly and infirm, as well as citizens who are just behind on home maintenance.

It's a delicate balance to legislate what amounts to good stewardship - enforcing rules on flagrant offenders without hurting ordinary citizens. The city isn't looking to make Astoria spotless, but rather officials want to keep blatant deterioration under control for the common good.

Brett Estes is Astoria's Community Development Director. He said the code is carefully written so that it would apply only to situations considered a "nuisance."

"That's the key - a 'nuisance' is defined in our code," he said. "It has to be to a certain point, not just an issue of deferred maintenance. And there are provisions in the code to allow the community development director to review individual cases."

Estes stressed that the new code would not target minor infractions or reasonable maintenance deficiencies. The city, however, wants a code with some teeth in it, to address situations relating to property owners whose long-term neglect "repeats often and is harmful for the economy."

The city held a public hearing at the city council's April 5 meeting, and now the city council and planning commission will review the draft ordinance in detail and fine-tune it. There will be another public hearing before the city council votes whether to OK the ordinance. Estes said he hoped the document would be approved sometime this summer.

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