New ordinance could be major step toward Siler City’s revitalization

Posted 7/21/21

SILER CITY — For the first time ever, Siler City has created a minimum nonresidential building code, and it could be the deciding factor in elevating the town’s sometimes-glum aesthetic.

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New ordinance could be major step toward Siler City’s revitalization

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SILER CITY — For the first time ever, Siler City has created a minimum nonresidential building code, and it could be the deciding factor in elevating the town’s sometimes-glum aesthetic.

When homes go unmaintained and fall into disrepair, most towns have ordinances permitting local officials to oversee restorative measures, or in extreme cases, to authorize demolition. But few municipalities of Siler City’s size have similar laws for nonresidential buildings.

“A lot of the smaller towns, they have very few commercial properties, and so they really don’t have a need for this code,” said Dennis Pinnix, president and CEO of Greensboro-based State Code Enforcement Inc. Pinnix has served as a frequent advisor to town representatives as they developed Siler City’s nonresidential code, and the town contracts his company to assist with enforcement.

“What triggered it for Siler City is you do have commercial property and if the owner lets it just sit and deteriorate and deteriorate, it becomes a real eyesore for the citizens of town,” he told the News + Record. “And then it also becomes a safety and life hazard for the community.”

Most Siler City residents will recognize the problem Pinnix describes. For years, several prominent buildings downtown and elsewhere have wasted away. But until now, the town was largely unable to address the issue.

“We would get complaints about buildings and didn’t know how to address it,” said Siler City Planning Director Jack Meadows, whose department manages the town’s code enforcement. “And so that’s a good point because we already have some of these buildings on our list, because there were all those complaints. So we know some of the buildings we need to start working on immediately, and now we finally can.”

Besides combating life-threatening building degeneration, the code will afford town staff the chance to enhance overall aesthetic.

“You know, it’s one thing if a building is falling over and is going to kill someone,” Meadows said. “We would’ve found a way to fix that even before. But what about paint peeling off a building? Or tattered awnings and window fixtures? We couldn’t fix that, but now we can.”

In a public meeting last Wednesday, Meadows and Pinnix introduced the new code — which the board of commissioners adopted in April — to a group of building owners and other interested residents.

“I think it went well,” Meadows said. “I’d say about 20 came, mostly building owners and business owners. When Dennis asked if folks liked the new code, almost everyone raised their hands.”

The minimum nonresidential code was one of the Siler City Downtown Advisory Committee’s highest priorities over the past two years. Other town-sponsored groups, such as the Siler City Economic Development Strategic Five-Year Plan Steering Committee, similarly isolated building improvement as an important step toward the town’s revitalization.

Some property owners have expressed apprehension, though, fearing they will not have enough time to bring their buildings into compliance. For such building owners, Meadows emphasized the town will not demand major improvements overnight.

“You get several weeks before we even have a hearing and then you get 180 days to do the work,” he said. “And then if you’ve got an active plan, you’re working on specific items, and you’ve done some work, you can get extensions from our staff. So it can be longer than 180 days. We purposefully built in mechanisms for long-term circumstances — this is not like you got to turn it around in three or four weeks. You get a lot of time.”

It will be challenging, Meadows admits, working through the years-long backlog of building issues which the town can only now address. But he expects the return on investment will dramatically improve Siler City’s economic positioning.

“Done properly,” he said, “code enforcement is definitely an economic development tool.”

Pinnix agrees.

“This is new for Siler City,” he said. “But we want to create an environment where people come to Siler City to shop and hang out, and this code will help it get there.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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