This Note intends to address responses to retail vacancies by local governments in nonurban areas where land is relatively cheap and low-density development predominates. Its purpose is to assist these municipalities in motivating owners of vacant retail structures to return the property to productive use, thereby significantly reducing the number of empty retail shells that litter the landscapes of many communities. Alternatively, in cases where the owner is unable or unwilling to mitigate the negative externalities imposed on the community by a vacant retail structure, I propose solutions tailored to commercial properties that will allow local governments to intervene in ways that will have the least amount of impact on strained municipal budgets.
My intention is to suggest a typology for categorizing retail property vacancies and to identify a few methods that local governments may employ to reduce the length of time during which such properties remain vacant. In proposing that local governments begin the analysis of vacant building situations with a determination of the highest and best use of the property, my aim is to provide a use-neutral framework, not to promote certain land uses over others. Furthermore, this Note encourages communities not to overlook temporary or unconventional uses for spaces, such as pop-up stores or seasonal stores, which can provide relief even when the prospects of full reoccupation are bleak. In the words of Professor Schindler: “Nearly any use would be more economically beneficial to a municipality and its residents than an abandoned property.” Every community is different, and this Note encourages local governments to tailor any method to the unique present and future needs of the communities that they serve.
The menu of potential remedies contained herein is by no means exhaustive. As the voluminous body of literature regarding abandoned urban and residential properties suggests, there is ample room for creativity in this area of the law. Furthermore, the range of solutions available depends on the specifics of the interaction between state and local law. The options that this Note recommends intentionally represent the path of least resistance—conservative approaches that can be deployed by the shrinking or underresourced municipalities, which struggle most severely with abandoned retail real estate issues. The methods geared toward these communities are well established, relatively low cost, and unlikely to invite litigation by corporations who have far greater resources than most municipalities can dedicate to a protracted legal battle. Communities with more resources to dedicate to eliminating vacant retail property are encouraged to use this limited menu as a jumping-off point to pioneer innovative solutions and to use the full reach of local power available to them.
Mairead J. Fitzgerald-Mumford,
Shells of the Stores They Once Were: Returning Vacant Retail Property to Productive Use in the Midst of the "Retail Apocalypse",
Notre Dame L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/ndlr/vol94/iss4/11