Vacancy 6870
Target vacated its storefront on Route 1 last May, and the building owner has not replaced the tenant. A new city subcommittee is deciding which vacant or blighted buildings will be subject to a tax.
Photo credit: Sam Gauntt

The College Park City Council voted on March 5 to form a subcommittee to look into how to potentially tax blighted and vacant properties in the city. 

The subcommittee’s first task will be deciding how to define what properties count as blighted or vacant. It will then determine how to impose a potential tax on these properties, according to College Park City Manager Kenny Young.

“We’re in a position now that [we] kind of have to force the issue and get people to take more of an interest in making sure properties are maintained in College Park,” Young said. 

 Councilmember Stuart Adams (District 3) said hundreds of buildings or properties in the city might be vacant or in ill repair.

“It’s depending on what the subcommittee recommends [as the definition of blighted] and what the council decides that we do but I would assume we’re in the hundreds,” Adams said.

The subcommittee will create the definition of blighted and vacant properties and decide the best way to formulate a tax by studying how other cities, such as Frederick and Washington, have already imposed similar taxes, Young added.

The subcommittee’s membership will include four College Park residents nominated by councilmembers from each of the city’s districts and one member chosen by Mayor Fazlul Kabir. 

Adams has advocated for a tax on blighted and vacant properties since serving as president of the Calvert Hills Citizens Association in 2019. 

Adams blamed the issue in the city, in part, on large, national chains that closed their locations and left  the properties vacant. 

It is sometimes more profitable for a property owner to keep a building or piece of land vacant than to fill it with a new tenant, especially if the departed tenant is still under contract to pay rent, Adams said. 

“The intent of the vacant and blighted property tax discussion, substantially in the commercial space but also in the residential space, is to mitigate some of the tax incentives that can occur for property owners to keep things vacant,” Adams noted. 

Adams added that a tax on blighted and vacant properties would “move us in the right direction.”

“It makes landlords think twice about what they’re doing with their property and compels them to make a few extra calls on filling up those retail spots,” he said. 

Young said any new policy will need to give enough notice to property owners so they can fix the issue before having to pay a tax.

After deciding on the definition of what qualifies as a blighted and vacant property, the subcommittee might also create a list of properties in College Park that fall under the definition, Young said.

“We want to make sure that our property owners within the city of College Park are getting the best bang for their buck, in terms of the city services we offer as well as helping to maintain their property values,” Young said.