When Minneapolis slapped a hefty fee on some of its vacant commercial buildings last year, policymakers were thinking mostly of aging structures that posed a nuisance or violated city codes.

But now they're moving toward imposing the $6,550 annual fee on another class of vacant buildings -- those that never got finished.

The City Council's regulatory committee approved the fee Monday after viewing photos of a cluster of buildings on which work stopped as early as 2004 -- well before the current recession.

City officials would have discretion in imposing the fee. But it's aimed at buildings for which construction permits expired before the developer gained an occupancy certificate, or on which work has stopped for more than six months.

The fee is intended to offset the city's extra costs for policing the properties for code violations such as tall weeds or litter, entry by intruders or other nuisances such as graffiti or dust.

At Monday's meeting, a banker warned the panel that imposing a fee might be counter-productive.

"We don't want these properties," said Brian Carnes, of Premier Bank of Maplewood, referring to buildings that lenders hold. Premier Bank invested nearly $1.8 million into a six-unit condo building in the Longfellow neighborhood that it's been unable to unload for $500,000, Carnes said.

Adding an extra fee that's twice the property tax on the building will make it even harder to sell, he said.

Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy, who has fielded complaints about a stalled condo project at 4526 46th Av. S., proposed the fee's extension. Committee member Lisa Goodman liked the idea so much that she asked if it could be made retroactive to when a project stopped; it can't, a city attorney concluded.

One partially built condo project in her ward lies a block off the river and stalled in early 2004, in the midst of other successfully developed condos and townhouses. County property ownership records list a New York City holding company as the owner.

"That's devalued every other property around it," she said.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438