More government regulations, more government employees to enforce them and how to pay for it, is what the Greensboro City Council will be considering at its work session on Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 4 p.m. in the Plaza Level Conference Room.

The specific topic is a “Nonresidential Good Repair Building Code.”  The city would like to pass this good repair ordinance for just downtown Greensboro, but to do so requires the North Carolina legislature to amend a state statute giving the city the power to treat property owners in one area differently from property owners in the rest of the city.  If a bunch of cities ask for the same thing It could happen, but if its only Greensboro the chance of it passing are slim.

What appears more likely is that the City Council will pass a citywide ordinance that will give city building inspectors the right to enter any nonresidential building in the city during normal business hours and look for things like leaky roofs, cracked windows, peeling paint, loose tiles, exits that are too narrow, kitchens being used for offices or storage, damp basements and the like.  If the inspector finds anything amiss, the owner can then be forced to make the repairs or if the building is in bad shape be forced to demolish the building.

That is assuming that the city does what it says it is going to do and models its ordinance on the one in Durham.  One of the great things about an unwritten proposed ordinance is the City Council can say it will include or exclude anything it wants and once the process starts it is devilishly hard to stop.

If the City Council should somehow convince the state that discriminating against downtown property owners is a good and fair thing to do and can pass the ordinance for only the downtown, it will certainly drive investors away from downtown property. Some of the requirements in the Durham good repair code require the owners to bring portions of the building up to the current building code.  For buildings that are 80 or 100 years old that can be an expensive proposition and it will no doubt discourage people from investing in older buildings.   If the code had been in place 20 or 30 years ago many of the buildings that now house shops and restaurants downtown would almost certainly have been demolished because the owners with no tenants or marginal tenants couldn’t afford to keep the buildings in pristine condition.

In 25 years working downtown, I never worked in a building that could have met the standards in the Durham good repair ordinance.

It might surprise the City Council to find that some people like quirky old buildings where everything doesn’t work like it was new, the bathroom sink only has cold water, the stairway is not 48 inches wide and for some inexplicable reason the basement occasionally floods.

One big downside to the proposed good repair ordinance is what it will cost the city to enforce it. The city is currently short of building inspectors. No doubt the Council will be presented with some ridiculously low figure for the number of new inspectors it will take to inspect every nonresidential building in the city.

If the city doesn’t inspect them all, how are the ones to be inspected going to be chosen?

Will they be the buildings that some councilmember drives past every day? Will a business owner be able to get his rival’s building inspected by making a complaint?

One solution that the City Council should consider is instead of spending six months trying to develop the world’s best panhandling ordinance as it did in 2018, spending that time figuring out how Durham, Charlotte, Raleigh, High Point and other cities in the state are attracting a host of new businesses to their cities. If Greensboro had a wealth of new businesses moving here more of the older, shopworn buildings would be bought up and revitalized without the city spending tax dollars to inspect every nonresidential building in the city.

But that’s not likely to happen.