Mayor says he will veto property code

An ordinance finally passed last week by Marietta City Council, establishing penalties for violations of the city’s property maintenance code, is expected to be vetoed by Mayor Joe Matthews today.

The measure, passed on a narrow 4-3 vote during Thursday’s regular city council meeting, sets penalties of $150 for an initial property maintenance violation, a $250 fine for a second offense, and any subsequent violations may cost up to $500 for every day the offense is not addressed.

Matthews said he asked to have the proposed ordinance tabled at the beginning of Thursday’s council meeting, a request that was echoed later in the session by Councilmen Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, and Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward.

But Councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, who chairs council’s planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee and has been pushing 16 months for an updated city property maintenance code, brought the measure to a final vote.

“So I just said I would veto it,” Matthews said on Sunday. “I’ll be signing the veto Monday, then they’ll have 10 days before the ordinance can be brought back for a vote, probably at the next council meeting (on March 6).”

But he noted a “yes” vote from two-thirds of the seven council members would be required to override his veto.

Matthews said he had several reasons for vetoing the measure.

“One was because during a (planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee) meeting last Tuesday (Feb. 18), two members had already said they were not satisfied with it,” he said. “If they weren’t satisfied, why not address their concerns first?”

Council members spent an hour-and-a-half during Thursday night’s public meeting discussing how high grass should be allowed to grow on city properties, Matthews said, noting such issues should have already been addressed in the proposed law.

Under the previous city maintenance code, grass could not be allowed to grow more than eight inches tall. The new ordinance sets a 12-inch limitation.

“Secondly, we have an aging population and some people struggle to pay for food and their prescription drugs. It would be hard for them to afford to keep their properties maintained to code,” he said. “And third, Marietta has been labeled as not business friendly. This code could add to that impression.”

Finally, Matthews said with new floodplain regulations and higher flood insurance rates being proposed by the federal government, adopting the new property maintenance code penalties as written would only increase the burden that would be borne by some citizens.

“These are things that should be considered before this ordinance is passed,” the mayor said. “And I’ve not had one person call me that supported this measure, but I’ve had several who were concerned about it.”

Matthews said a couple of senior citizens told him they could not afford to have the snow shoveled from the sidewalks in front of their homes, so they would be liable for a fine.

During the Feb. 18 committee meeting Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, expressed concern that folks found in violation of not shoveling snow off their sidewalks could be immediately fined up to $150 by the code enforcement officer because as written the proposed property code did not instruct the officer to issue a warning notice on the first offense.

Matthews added that, although abandoned and junk cars are addressed in the law, abandoned boats and trailers are not.

“And I’m not doing this for publicity. I want this to be right for the people,” he said. “Yes, I think we should have a law like this, but there are a lot of things in this code that should be addressed first. Once it’s law it could be more difficult to make those changes.”

But Kalter noted Sunday that two incidents over the weekend pointed to the need for enforcement of the city’s property maintenance code, which was updated when council adopted the 2012 International Property Maintenance Code as part of the city ordinance in September 2013.

“Just 13 hours after we voted on Thursday’s legislation and passed it by a 4-3 vote, a window blew out of a building (at 217) Second Street,” he said. “It showered the street and sidewalk below with loose pieces of window glass. And this is at least the second time this has happened at that building.”

Ryan Smith, whose Marietta Adventure Company offices are located in a building he owns next door to 217 Second St., said he was parking his truck around 10:30 a.m. Friday when he saw the window fall from an upper story of the building.

“The glass exploded out of the front window. From my truck I could just see glass showering down on the sidewalk,” he said. “If I had parked a few minutes earlier, I would have been walking through that area when the glass fell.”

Smith said other windows have also fallen from the building in the past. Many are now boarded up, but when strong winds blow through gaps in windows at the back side of the building, air pressure can rise inside the structure, causing any glass windows remaining to blow out of the building.

“I own a downtown building and put a lot of money and personal time into maintaining that building,” he said. “But if the building next door is falling down and damaging my building, I have to ask if I really want to make a lot of improvements to my property.”

Smith said some sort of building maintenance enforcement is needed.

Kalter said he’s concerned for public safety when windows are falling out of buildings and onto city sidewalks where pedestrians could get hurt or killed.

He also noted a suspected arson fire that occurred late Friday in an abandoned home at 1001 Gilman Ave. which had been set ablaze at least twice before.

“I don’t want anyone killed in this town,” Kalter said. “We’ve had a property maintenance code since 1999, and last September council adopted the updated version of the International Property Maintenance Code.”

He said legislation establishing a property maintenance code enforcement office and enforcement officers was also passed by council in the fall of 2013.

“All we’re doing now is providing the code enforcement officer with the means to hold people responsible for violating the property maintenance code,” Kalter said.

The four council members voting in favor of the ordinance passed Thursday were Kalter, Kathy Downer, D-at large, Harley Noland, D-at large, and Steve Thomas, D-3rd Ward.

Opposing the measure were councilmen McCauley, Michael Mullen, I-at large, and Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward.