City passes final version of property clean-up law
BERRYVILLE ---- The city council unanimously approved the the final version of an ordinance last Monday that amends city code to establish standards to regulate derelict properties, unsightly conditions, and eyesores such as rubbish, garbage and old appliances on local properties.
The ordinance was first introduced to the public in 2001, and after a public outcry that the ordinance might be too invasive of private property rights, the ordinance was amended dramatically to exclude provisions such as home interior inspections.
Mayor Tim McKinney, Administrative Assistant Jay Lee, and City Attorney Scott Jackson have been working on a real property maintenance ordinance that would satisfy the public.
This time, there were no objections at the council meeting April 6.
In contrast to the earlier public hearings, Berryville resident Jack Harris of George Street spoke in favor of the ordinance, showing the council pictures of unsightly conditions in his neighborhood. Another resident, Carroll Autry, said he too was in favor of the proposal.
Berryville Chamber of Commerce Director Mike Ellis also spoke in support of the law, saying chamber members believed the new law will be a "tool for protecting the prosperity of the businesses and residents" of Berryville.
One significant amendment to the law focused on the provision for exterior property maintenance said all premises and exterior property shall be maintained free from grass and other plant growth in excess of 10 inches. That section was amended in the final reading , adding, "This term shall not include cultivated flowers and gardens."
Alderman Burt George, sitting in for Mayor McKinney, who was unable to attend the meeting, called for a vote, and he and Aldermen Joel Gibson, Sally Phillips and Linda Riddlesperger voted yes without comment.
Jay Lee said the ordinance will take affect 30 days from April 6, but enforcement won't really be in effect until the week beginning May 10.
This is the third version of the ordinance, which has more definitions of what is unsightly; outlines standards for maintenance; and establishes enforcement procedures that include fines.
The new law has no provision for inspectors to enter anyone's homes for inspection, and limits grass length to more than 10 inches high before it is declared unsightly. Also, weeds were a point of argument in earlier versions, when some people complained that cultivated weeds could be outlawed.
Lee said the new ordinance allows any plantings to exist as long as they are tended to and appear in a pleasing fashion.
In general, the ordinance, No. 829, sets minimum requirements and standards of maintenance for real property.
It defines an "unsightly/ unsanitary article" as "any article or thing which poses a threat to the public health, safety or welfare; or any article or thing which creates a blighting problem, adversely affects the appearance of the surrounding area, or is detrimental to nearby property or property values."
Sanitation: All exterior properties shall be maintained in a clean, safe and sanitary condition.
Stagnant Water: All premises shall be maintained to prevent the accumulation of stagnant water (to prevent mosquito breeding).
Grass: All premises and exterior property shall be maintained free from grass and other plant growth in excess of 10 inches, with the exception of cultivated flowers and gardens.
Infestation: All structures and exterior property shall be kept free from insect and rodent infestation. If infested, the owner is required to safely take care of the problem.
Trees and shrubs: All premises and exterior property shall be maintained free from trees, shrubs or other plant growth that would obstruct the view of pedestrians or vehicles from traffic. It also forbids dead trees that are capable of threatening public safety and welfare.
Several more provisions require proper maintenance of exterior overhangs, porches and balconies; windows and doorways and other elements of a property so as not to create a public hazard.
Also, all exterior properties would be free from an accumulation of rubbish, garbage, debris, lumber, inoperable appliances and other unsightly or unsanitary articles.
The new ordinance provides for giving the property owner written notice to clean up properties before being subject to fines of up to $100, and if the issue isn't settled the city can do the work itself and put a lien on the property.
The enforcement procedure begins with a complaint, and a code enforcement official will investigate, and write to the owner explaining the violation and procedures for correction.
The correction period is 10 days, unless the problem was created by fire or natural disaster, which will allow 60 days for the issue to be addressed.
The ordinance is on file at city hall.
In other business, Public Works Director Kirby Murray said the city could save a significant amount of money by having an outside contractor do the laboratory testing required at the wastewater treatment plant. He said the required lab testing cost the city $54,000 last year for public works employees to do the job. He said he has discovered that McClelland Engineering could do the lab tests for $19,000 per year and an additional $1,200 for soil testing. A memo from Mayor McKinney said the change would also free up the current lab technician for other public works duties. Alderman Gibson said the option appeared to be a "very good savings for the city," and the council unanimously approved giving Mayor McKinney the okay to negotiate a contract with McClelland, which he will present to the council in the near future.
The council also heard a report from Police Chief David Muniz that says criminal offenses during the month of February are down, from 53 last February to 43 this February. The police force wrote 65 tickets this February, compared to 55 last February.
Police reserves put in 157 hours of volunteer time in February. He said the reserves are "good officers involved in a lot of activities." Also, Muniz said, the department's new community policing program is "working out real well," with 45 hours logged when officers make cordial visits with businesses, residents and people in public areas to talk and become more familiar with what's going on in the everyday affairs of those contacted.
The council also approved a request from the Eureka Springs Hospital Relay for Life team for a cookout to be held from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 17, to raise money for the annual Relay drive to raise funds to fight cancer.