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Citizens Concerned About Ordinance Amendment

June 15, 2017
by Anna Veltri , Emmetsburg News

The first City Council meeting of June was held on Monday night. During the meeting, there was a public hearing regarding the new proposed nuisance amendment to the current ordinance, number 571.

The purpose of the new ordinance amendment is to better define a nuisance as well as the protocol for abatement. As summer months approach, grass will be growing swiftly and non-working vehicles may be more noticeable.

"This is an amendment to the regulations we have in place now. We're not removing anything from the way the ordinance reads today. You're considering adding to it," City Administrator John Bird clarified to the council.

The definition of a nuisance has been expanded to include, "any condition that is allowed to exist and remain on a property that serves no essential purpose to said property or to the inhabitant(s) thereon and that by the condition's very existence, adversely affects the comfortable enjoyment and/or the value of neighboring properties."

"How's that going to work when the tenant has a [junk car] and he won't remove it, does the cost of removing the car go back to the owner of the property?" Questioned Jerry Brennan.

"Both the tenant and the landlord will receive notice. At the end of the day, if you don't remove it it's going to go on your [property] taxes," Bill Burdick replied.

"In the case of a car, I assume we'll go after the owner of the car. We actually have a separate ordinance for junk vehicles," John Bird followed. "But our only recourse, for us to abate the nuisance, is for us to attach the cost to the property taxes."

"Who enforces that ordinance?" Brennan asked.

"The majority of our abatement measures are complaint based. Chief Hanson has initiated a number of them on his own," John Bird replied.

"When I go to speak with them [the property owner] there is almost no defense. It's so perceivable how bad it is when I draft the order." Chief Hanson commented on the properties that he generally approaches regarding nuisance violations.

"The way the ordinance reads today, if my neighbor's washing machine stopped working and they set it two feet from my yard, we would have a heck of a time declaring it a nuisance," Bird stated. "If it has a detrimental impact on the value of a neighboring property then to me, that says that it's a nuisance."

As the conversation continued, attendees of the meeting began to wonder if perhaps the wording was still too broad.

Harry Saftlas, a concerned citizen stated that he supported the concept of the ordinance- a nuisance should be declared if it is injurious to the health or safety of an individual. What he questioned though was how to determine if an object serves an essential purpose to the property.

"The important qualifier unreasonably was used, which means there is some reasonable limit to what people can object. For instance, if you're a vegetarian, you might be irked by your neighbors grilling meat" Saftlas noted.

Saftlas also addressed the new proposed wording of the nuisance ordinance, "I don't know what you mean when you say it serves no essential purpose to the property; in my world, people have purposes, not property."

"If someone is repairing their vehicle, that is dismantling it or if someone is restoring a vehicle as a hobby, or plans to do so in the future that is rusted. Is he out of compliance?" Saftlas wondered.

"I understand people have different lifestyles and tastes, but even in a small town like Emmetsburg there are different neighborhoods- some of the houses cost more and are better kept and others are cheaper houses with not so well tempered lawns, cars being repaired, building materials being stockpiled to be used as repair and remodeling projects. And according to people's pocketbooks and tastes, they generally live in the area they can afford," Saftlas mentioned that if a neighbor is unhappy with the conditions next to them, they are able to erect fences or plant bushes to obstruct the view.

"We're discussing people and their habits. Not just stuff or junk or nuisances. I ask you as the council to stay with the existing law and keep the word reasonable in there." Saftlas concluded.

Brian Campbell moved to approve the first reading of ordinance number 571; Mike Hermansen seconded it. All Council members in attendance voted "aye." Since two councilmen were not in attendance, they were unable to waive the second and third reading of the ordinance. The Second Reading will be discussed at the next meeting of the City Council on June 26.



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