SAN ANGELO, Texas – In the past, a committee was formed in San Angelo with the intention of creating a City Ordinance. The ordinance would make it more difficult for vacant buildings to exist downtown but was ultimately unsuccessful.

According to the City of San Angelo City Planning and Development Director, Jon James, other efforts attempted to enforce the registration and annual inspection of vacant buildings. They offered incentives for owners who use or lease the vacant buildings, but legal limitations made the incentive unsuccessful.

James says, “There’s a perception in the community that there are owners just sitting on [the properties],” and the city has had parties interested in purchasing and developing the properties, but sales did not occur.

Downtown San Angelo is considered the “Heart of the City” and the “Livingroom of the City,” which initiates the congregation of the community. It continues to transform as renovations and improvements continue. However, putting the vacant buildings downtown to use isn’t part of revitalization plans.

San Angelo Mayor, Brenda Gunter explains that San Angelo’s downtown is like an outdoor mall, but what makes it different from a mall is that all of the buildings are generally individually owned. This makes it difficult for the city to impose specific plans on those areas.

While downtown revitalization efforts do not include individually owned property, there has been a significant decline in vacant buildings in the past five years.

Mayor Gunter says, “When we took an inventory of the number of empty buildings we had about five years ago compared to the number of empty buildings we have today, it has decreased by two-thirds. So if you had a snapshot of five years ago and look at the number of empty buildings compared to today, it’s shocking. There’s work to be done because as opportunities come up, as new creative ideas come up, we all have an opportunity to look at the trends of things going on and adapt accordingly.”

City Fire Marshal, Ross Coleman explains that the Fire Marshal’s Office’s involvement in the safety of vacant buildings downtown is under Chapter 4, Article 4.05 “Dangerous Buildings” of San Angelo City Ordinance.

The inspector shall inspect any structure that he has probable cause to believe does not meet the minimum standards. The inspector shall inspect any structure about which complaints have been filed to the effect that the structure is or may be a dangerous building or structure as defined in this article. If the structure is not open and accessible, the inspector may obtain permission from the owner or a person in control of the premises, or may apply for an administrative search warrant pursuant to Texas Code of Criminal Procedure section 18.05, unless an exception to the warrant requirement exists.

Coleman says, “By our ordinance, it’s very common. So we have a whole program and we look at buildings usually first upon complaint and then by routine inspection and stuff like that.”

He continues that the next step is, “Notification to the property owner in writing, detailing the problem and why it’s a violation of the ordinance. We would ask them to remedy that. For instance, if there’s a hole in a window, replace a window; falling bricks, replace the bricks; holes in the roof, fix the roof, that kind of stuff.”

According to the City Code of Ordinance, once the Fire Marshal’s Office notifies an owner of any issues, the owner(s) have “15 days from the date of the notice to contact the inspector regarding the owner’s intent to repair, remove or demolish the dangerous building.”

Mayor Gunter says cities such as Abilene, Midland, Odessa, Lubbock, and Amarillo all look at San Angelo as a city that’s done a great job of preserving their historic downtown areas. She explains, “We’ve only begun in terms of what we know the potential is, but incredibly proud of what we’ve already done.”