Recent adoption of a program to encourage replacement of run-down structures in downtown Pendleton looks worthwhile. Such a program has resulted in a couple of major property improvements in The Dalles.

Members of the Pendleton Development Commission just passed a resolution generated by City Manager Larry Lehman to try to improve the looks of structures within the Urban Renewal District and to encourage higher density housing. Among potential goals of the program: Increase property tax revenue through higher quality buildings, encourage capital investment in downtown, and help build housing to accommodate more working families which Pendleton Economic Development is trying to attract.

The program is to work this way:

-Starting Jan. 1, a property owner in the Urban Renewal District - from the Umatilla River to Frazer Avenue and from the Round-Up Grounds to Eastgate - may apply for money from the Urban Renewal Fund to demolish run-down buildings. The property owner agrees to build a replacement structure with value of at least three times that of the structure being torn down.

-Within 18 months of demolition, the property owner must have a building permit and must choose a contractor to build a new structure or pay twice the demolition costs. Construction then must be complete within 24 months of demolition unless an extension is granted by the Pendleton Development Commission.

-The owner agrees to pay for removal of any fuel tanks, asbestos and any concrete or asphalt that need to be removed.

The Dalles has been operating a similar program since 1990, but with somewhat looser requirements. The city makes loans or grants up to $50,000 for removal of blighted structures. Community Development Director Dan Durow said interest and principle need to be paid back on any loans made to property owners. He said the city's "rule of thumb" is that a property that replaces a run-down structure needs to generate a payback in taxes within 10 years. A property owner is required to complete a building replacement within three years of applying for a permit.

The Dalles has had two projects that have brought property improvements under the program. One was a $3 million-plus construction of condominiums downtown. The other was construction of a complex which included a sports bar, a computer repair shop and a restaurant.

After a recent meeting of the Pendleton Development Commission on the demolition program, one question was whether city government could do a better job of city code enforcement so there would be less need for Pendleton's new demolition program. One answer is that in these tight budgetary times, it is hard to have enough city staff (police officers or others) to go door to door with notices of code violations. And there is the challenge of city staff being enough informed about code violations around town. If a structure is thought to impose on a property line or right of way, city staff might well hear about it. But many building code violations go unreported.

A recent editorial here stated that what downtown Pendleton needed was not more brick, more open space or more parking but more shoppers. That statement was overdone. Of all the things that could strengthen downtown Pendleton, more Pendletonians with income to spend leads the list. But the capital investment that has been made and is still being made has built downtown Pendleton into a highly attractive complex ready to take advantage of improvements in the economy and arrival of more consumers with income to spend. Pendleton's new demolition program seeks to encourage more capital investment downtown, more multiple-family housing, and more property tax revenue. Those are all worthy goals.

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the East Oregonian editorial board, comprised of Associate Publisher Kathryn Brown, General Manager Wendy DalPez, Managing Editor Skip Nichols, News Editor Daniel Wattenburger and Senior Reporter Dean Brickey. EO Publishing Co. Board Chairman Mike Forrester and former EO Editor George Murdock also contribute editorial content. Other columns, letters and cartoons on this page express the opinions of the authors and not necessarily that of the East Oregonian.

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