Despite some misgivings by the two members who will retire from the city council this year, the Storm Lake City Council passed first readings of a new property maintenance code Monday night.
Julie Egland said she is not opposed to efforts to help keep up the condition of properties in the city, but she argued that going so far as to establish a percentage of peeling paint to be tolerable is "heavy handed" government.
The basic ordinance passed 4-1, with Wally Burns opposed. Two separate amendments, on paint and front-yard parking limitations, passed 3-2 with Egland and Burns opposed to both,
Two additional readings are planned before the ordinance would become law.
The Storm Lake City Council has spent several lengthy study sessions going over the idea of such a code. It was decided recently to bring the issue to a vote before two current councilpersons leave the new members take office.
"The Purpose of this code is to protect the public health, safety and welfare, esthetics and property values" to make homes and other properties fit for habitation or other uses, the draft of the code reads.
It seeks to require occupants to meet responsibilities laid out by the code, authorize inspection of premises, and establish penalties for violations - potentially including mandated repairs, or even vacating of property and demolition if owners refuse to comply.
The ordinance was broken into three parts to prevent the city from having to start over if the council voted down any particular issue.
Althugh the issue has raised some debate in the community, there was little input at the meeting. Resident Lowell Fields questioned part of the ordinance dealing with animal slaughter.
He wondered how rules could impact local hunters and taxidermy businesses. The code considers slaughter of any live animals or eviseration of any dead animals in any residential-zoned area to be a nuisance.
The code also sets standards against:
* Weeds or grasses over eight inches tall on average, exposed to public view.
* Garbage or recylables piled up for longer than a collection cycle.
* Houses that are so dilapidated that they are considered unsafe or unsanitary.
* Inoperable vehicles left in public view for more than 10 days at except for repair or salvage businesses.
* Piled up dirt, sand, gravel or other debris that could pollute public property, or in mounds on a vacant lot for construction for a period of more than four months.
* Failure to establish a permanent grass cover, with some exceptions for densely-shaded and landscape bed areas.
* Anything impeding the natural flow of runoff or directing water that saturates or damages neighboring property.
* Conditions that can cause accumulation of weeds, junk, dead organic matter, offal, rodent habitat or combustible materials.
* Private or failed drains or sewers that do not meet county sewage regulation.
*Dead or diseased trees.
* Loose overhead objects including snow that could fall on a person.
Under the code, all buildings should be weater and water-tight, and broken windows should be replaced. Owners should not use materials on their homes that would depreciate neighboring property.
Proper garbage cans should be provided and kept covered.
The Board of Adjustment would hear any appeals to the application of the policy.
The first part of the Property Maintenance Code passed 4-1 with Wally Burns voting against the passing.
The second part of maintenance code dealt with rules relating to parking of vehicles on private property and adjacent public right-of-way in residentially zoned districts.
An amendment was added that will allow parking spaces established for buildings structurally designed for multiple family units to keep parking in the right-of-way area already established by curb cuts prior to November 1, 2007 to keep the parking area - but will require the space to be hard surfacedby the end of 2012. Parking on lawns, grassy areas or weeds will also be banned starting in May of 2008.
Other highlights of the motion will require approaches to be hard surfaced and set the driveway width for residences. According to the ordinance the driveway will be allowed to be 12 feet wide for single car garage with an option of a hard surfaced wing on private property to be added. The drive is allowed to expand by 12 feet for every additional garage space.
The motion passed 3-2 with both Julie Egland and Wally Burns voting no. Both council members were against requiring percentage spaces for multiple families to be paved.
The final part of the property maintenance code to be addressed was on the issue of peeling paint. City Attorney Paul Havens stated that the lower the percent of peeling paint established to require a structure to be repainted, the easier it would be to argue in court if the issue went to that extent.
"I oppose establishing an number," Egland said. "It is too heavy handed and I don't think it makes the city very friendly."
Mayor pro tem Denny Vaudt stated that he was concerned about the 50 percent being too high, but added that he would much rather have something than nothing at all.
Public Safety Director Mark Prosser agreed with the 50 percent.
"It will be easier for the officers to determine what is 50 percent then one fourth (peeled)," Prosser added.
"I just want people to know that I'm not against keeping up properties," Egland said. "I believe that we should be good neighbors and keep up the properties but I just don't agree with the heavy handiness of this."
The rules establishing peeling paint passed 3-2 with Burns and Egland against.
The second reading is set for December 3. The public is allowed to write comments to city hall in response to the issue with their name, address and phone number or they may appear before the council to speak about the property maintenance code. If anyone is wishing to see the code, they may do so by visiting City Hall.
If the code is passed it will go into effect at the beginning of the year. The city is working on ways to help educate the community about the changes.
"We are looking at doing bulk mailing," City Administrator Patti Moore said. "But we are looking at other options. We will be printing them and we will look to the media to help as well. They have done a good job so far and we think they will continue to help."