North Branch adjusts nuisance ordinance

Like every other city, North Branch has had a nuisance ordinance defining actions (or lack thereof) by residents that could pose a hazard or in some other way was unappealing to the population. But up until now, North Branch’s version was more bark than bite when it came to the enforcement or other procedures. During the Feb. 9 North Branch City Council meeting, the council officially gave the ordinance some more teeth.

“This particular ordinance has been a long time in the making,” said City Administrator Renae Fry, while reminding council of an incident from two years ago when the city had trouble enforcing the ordinance on a hoarder’s house.

“Ultimately, you have a document that eliminates some of the ambiguity, outlines a process and a procedure to not only protect the property owner, but to give clear direction to the city as to go about enforcing potentially nuisance claims, to allow for a forum for a hearing before the council... moving into the enforcement phase, it does then provide clear guidance for emergency abatement and more importantly what the procedures might be for a court order for cleanup if necessary,” Fry said.

While the ordinance is getting changed, the council and staff wanted to emphasize the majority of the ordinance remains the same, including what constitutes a nuisance and how the city initiates action against it.

“We have not changed in any shape or fashion the city’s practice of being complaint-based,” Fry said. “We do not investigate, we do not go onto sites, we don’t go looking for problems.”

“A lot of this is about education and making the city better,” Council Member Patrick Meacham said, adding “if you have two tires on your grass we’re not going to come and fine you or take away your vehicle.”

“In the past, we have faced the wrath, if you will, of residents who didn’t understand why we couldn’t do anything to force the cleanup without this new language,” Fry said.

 “Residents get very upset when things can’t get done,” Public Works Director Shawn Williams. “They say their property values are going down.”

The key portion of the ordinance change pertains to what happens once all other remedies have been exhausted. According to GIS Specialist Nathan Sondrol, the city will usually post written notice of a complaint at the residence in question, and follow that up with emails and/or phone calls and site visits. If a person refuses to comply with the city’s requests, the city will go through the county courts to issue a citation. However, that is where the process previously ended.

“Citations don’t guarantee the problem will be fixed,” Sondrol said.

The revised ordinance will now allow the city to go to the next step of forcibly abating the nuisance, although that will be the city’s last resort.

“Some cities will go in and abate at the drop of a hat,” Fry said. “But abatements are expensive, and the city pays for that abatement.”

The complete revised ordinance can be found on the city’s website, at City Hall, and at the public library.

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