Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tall Grass And Unregistered Cars Target Of Blight Ordinance

The city is stepping up efforts to combat blighted properties.

The Board of Aldermen recently adopted an antiblight ordinance that allows the city to slap the owner of a neglected property with a $100-a-day fine if the blighted property adversely affects the health, safety or property values of other residents.

The ordinance also allows the city to fix — at the property owner’s expense — long-ignored problems on properties deemed to be blighted.

Blight, as defined by the ordinance, can be as simple as broken windows or overgrown grass. An abandoned building, one with extensive fire or water damage or one that is infested with vermin or has unregistered cars or garbage on the property, also can be considered blighted.

Any other condition causing “substantial depreciation of the property values in the neighborhood” also falls under the ordinance.

Alderwoman Jessica Blacketter, D-4, asked City Attorney Win Smith during an ordinance committee meeting last week if the term “substantial depreciation” could be more clearly defined.

Smith advised against putting a percentage or dollar amount to represent lowered property values because property appraisals can vary a great deal, depending on who is doing the appraising.

A hard number or percentage of depreciation could undermine the city’s position in court and make the ordinance more difficult to enforce, Smith said.

Aldermanic Minority Leader Vincent Ditchkus, R-3, agreed with Smith.

“In the real estate market, you could have three different appraisers come out ... and have three different, substantial changes to that appraisal,” Ditchkus said.

Alderman Nick Veccharelli Jr., D-2, said he supported the idea of an anti-blight ordinance, but took issue with the one adopted because he thought it gave the “blight enforcement officer” too much power.

The idea of a blight enforcement officer being able to go onto a property based simply on an anonymous call, without first notifying the property owner, did not sit well with Veccharelli.

“I am simply asking that before we allow someone to enter onto somebody’s property — that we let them know we are coming over,” Veccharelli said. “Please, if they are going to go on someone’s property, let’s at least have the common decency to inform the people.”

Aldermanic Chairman Ben Blake, D-5, said the intent of the ordinance is to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents, and having to give notice “could take some of the bite out of the ordinance.”

Responsibility for enforcing the ordinance rests with the city health director or a designee.

Smith said the health director and zoning enforcement officer already have the power by state law to enter properties to deal with code violations.


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