We are hardly ones to encourage government to meddle in private-property matters, but the Clayton Town Council has been more than patient with the owner and would-be owner of a former grocery store building near downtown.
This past week, the council gave the would-be owner another month or so to get his financing in order and to begin renovations. In the meantime, the would-be owner has an agreement to purchase the building but has not yet done so.
The council expresses sympathy for the property owner, whom it describes, essentially, as a little old lady who bought a piece of property in Clayton and then retired to the beach. Meanwhile, the council appears to be losing its patience with the would-be buyer, and it’s true that he has yet to make good on his plans for the building.
But frankly, we have little sympathy for the property owner, though we must confess that we don’t know her or her circumstances. But it’s true for any property investor that not all investments pay dividends, and it’s quite possible that the Clayton investor made a bad bet. But whether she wins or loses on her investment, the decaying building is still her property, which means she and she alone is responsible for its upkeep, an obligation she has not met.
Look at it this way: Would the council cut as much slack to the owner of a decaying residential building? Would it expect a would-be tenant to pay to repair a building that belonged to his landlord?
This is by no means an exoneration of the would-be owner in this case. He has so far not shown the town how he plans to pay for the needed renovations, suggesting he might not have the wherewithal to bring the building back to life.
But we would encourage the council to place accountability where it belongs, which is squarely with owner, not someone who might buy the building. We would remind the council too that its obligation is not to the building’s owner but to the property’s neighbors, whose own land values and even physical well-being are jeopardized by a building that is literally falling down around them.