Owners of nuisance properties in Storm Lake might want to get busy. Storm Lake city officials are coming to address them.
After a couple of years of lengthy study and many work sessions by city council members and city staff, Storm Lake is preparing to launch its Priority Maintenance Code this summer, to give the city teeth to enforce some potential problems on residential and business property.
"With visitors coming to the city, we want to have a community that we are proud of," City Administrator Patti Moore explained after one recent work session.
The maintenance code effort began a few years ago with a look at what some other cities have done to address nuisance-condition properties.
While the city has successfully utilized a police department program to encourage clean-up of many property safety issues, existing city ordinances let some potential problems slip through the enforement cracks - such as the allowable length for grass, animal slaughtering, parking of cars on front lawns and others.
"Our ordinance do not allow us to deal with certain issues with properties," Moore said, and city leaders want a clear policy.
Problem is, beauty is often in the eye of the beholder.
City officials recently grappled with the proper length for lawns - what length is good, and at what length should involve notification to property owners to make the cut.
According to Moore, the issue has come to the forefront with some of the ornamental grass be planted over wide areas of yard - which to the homeowner may be beautification while their neighbors see it as a nuisance.
Another issue discussed recently involved the fairly rare practice of butchering of sheep and hogs in the city. Hunters also may dress out deer, pheasant, water fowl, and scale fish at their homes.
"I'm against slaughter in the City, outside of certified facilities," Council member Jim Treat said during the session.
Mayor John Kruse noted that he personally uses his garage to age venison from hunting season.
"It use to be more common that hunters would hang deer in the back yard to age the meat but I think that it should be done in their garages or basement out of the view from the public," Kruse said.
"I'm not against cutting up one bird or fish if it's done away from the public but 50-60 birds or a hog and you are talking about a big mess," Council member Denny Vaudt said at the last session.
Another issue that has been long discussed during the sessions has been about parking of vehicles on the front lawns. With people sharing homes, and areas of limited street parking, it is not uncommon for neighbors to complain, especially when they feel cars are parked in public view for long periods in non-running condition.
The council also discussed what could be done to prevent people from simply paving over entire front yards to get around any potential multiple car parking restrictions.
According to a draft of the property maintenance code, the purpose of the Code is to protect the public health, safety and welfare, and property values, by establishing minimum standards for maintenance, appearance, condition and occupancy. It specifies that essential utilities and other physical components and conditions be provided to make a resident premises fit for human habituation and to make non-residential premises fit for use according to the purpose for which they were developed.
The code stresses that there are certain responsibilities and duties expected of the owners and managers, as well as separate responsibilities and duties expected of the occupants of a property, and specifies procedures for inspection of premises and enforcement of the code; establishes penalties for violations and provides for proper repair, demolition or vacation of premises which do not comply.
The most recent work session was scheduled Monday after the city council meeting.
"Everything will be checked over by the city attorney, which could take up to a week depending on his case load, then the council will hold public hearings and look to pass the code on three readings," Moore said.
Moore added that the three readings will happen at three separate meetings to ensure the public has time to review the code and to ask questions.
"There will be a need of an educational process that the city will use to make sure that people have an understanding of the codes," Moore said.