Property maintenance code OK’d

After 17 months of planning, discussion and arguments, the city of Marietta now has an ordinance that sets guidelines for penalizing non-compliance with a property code after City Council adopted an amended version in a three-hour meeting Thursday evening.

With three “no” votes and four “yes” votes, the adoption came after an hour and a half of discussion.

The ordinance will now have 30 days to go into effect, and during that time Safety Service Director Jonathan Hupp will hire a property code enforcement officer.

The original property code was adopted in 2012, but this ordinance sets about a way to enforce it, which was not previously in place.

The adoption included three amendments to the ordinance itself, which will be used to assure that property is being maintained in a way that is safe and does not create a nuisance.

The first was that under the ordinance, the property code enforcement officer would follow city guidelines in cases of junk and nuisance vehicle complaints, which involves a notification period for a car owner to remove a vehicle that has been sitting on a street or private property for an extended period.

“This was part of the attempt to get this all lined up so we don’t have conflict between city and state code and property management,” said Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, who spearheaded the drive to get the legislation approved.

The second amendment regulated that grass and weeds must reach a height of 12 inches to be non-compliant, one that created a long line of arguments. The previous height was set at eight inches.

“This is in response to a landlord who expressed concerns about the height. We’re trying to be consistent, fair and reasonable,” Kalter said.

Michael Mullen, I-At Large, who was one of the three “no” votes for the adoption, said it was this kind of discrepancy that should warrant more time.

“If we are just now deciding on the floor of this meeting about grass inches…I think the components of 95.5 percent of this code are appropriate, but it’s the five percent here that proves there are more things we need to flesh out,” Mullen said.

Kalter insisted that the ordinance needed to be passed now to help the community, as the 30-day lapse time in addition to waiting for more weeks would allow deteriorating property to cause physical harm to people or city land.

Washington Street resident Judy Phillips agreed that the code enforcement will help protect the historical beauty of the city.

“This is about maintaining a safe and attractive appearance that is the city’s future,” Phillips said. “When I drive through the city, it’s long overdue on every block.”

Kalter expressed concern for children being enticed to play around nuisance property and being at risk for injury, and that not enforcing code puts them at the mercy of dangerous property.

“We have a plan that’s a starting point to help protect the safety and the welfare of the community,” Kalter said. “It will never be perfect, but in the real world, with human beings, that’s not going to happen.”

Along with the amendments to grass and cars, the council passed the amendment to include a set list of guidelines to go about filing and processing a complaint.

This amendment, Kalter said, was supposed to be an answer to those who believed that this would cause disturbances among neighbors complaining about each other’s properties.

Another concern was that the ordinance would burden those with low or fixed incomes.

“There’s a lot of people who can’t afford to do this,” said Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward. “I understand the point and I’ve listened, but the problem is this piece of legislation doesn’t get us there.”

Both Mullen and Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, expressed disappointment that they had to vote against something they could possibly support, simply because they did not think the community was ready for it.

“In a year and three quarters we’ll be looking at a new council, and I want this to be right when we do it,” Vukovic said.

Kalter pressed upon council to understand that pushing this ordinance through, which would do things like force property owners to pick up broken glass and fix structures that could be dangerous, was of utmost importance.

“This will continue to be a cooperative effort by ever elected person and staff member of the city so our residents can have the health and safety they deserve,” Kalter said.

Steve Thomas, D-3rd Ward, voted for the ordinance after speaking with many people who suffered from neglectful landlords.

“This is going to save some lives, so I’m looking forward to it,” Thomas said.

The ordinance, introduced at the start of the new year, sets fines for those that are not in compliance with the property code that includes $150 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for a third and subsequent offenses.

Until a code enforcement officer is appointed, the Marietta City Police will be in charge of enforcing the ordinance and code.

Though the crowd thinned out after the code ordinance was adopted, council adopted several other ordinances, including:

Allowed the safety service director to advertise for bids to anticipate the city’s needed purchase of construction materials, rushed to third reading because of the amount of potholes and other construction needs the city faces coming out of winter

Approved the sale of two police vehicles no longer needed

Approved several expenses in regards to the city hall renovations project, paid to Grae-Con Construction to individual amounts for costs related to computer systems, building maintenance and security systems, among other things. All the expenses together do not exceed $21,650.41.

Approved to contract with the Ohio Department of Transportation to perform the city’s bridge inspections.