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Committee reviews nuisance property ordinance

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Parker Patterson, deputy city attorney (center), explains nuisance activities are misdemeanors within the existing city of Roswell code. Bill Morris, community development director (right), and City Manager Joe Neeb also answered the Legal Committee’s questions about the proposed nuisance property ordinance on Thursday. (Alison Penn Photo)

City officials discuss misdemeanor violations, contact with landlords

The proposed nuisance ordinance passed through a second round of revisions last week by the city of Roswell’s Legal Committee.

After deliberation, Councilors Judy Stubbs, Barry Foster and George Peterson voted 3-0 to send the proposed ordinance to the full City Council, for advertisement of a public hearing, at the council’s next meeting. Peterson made the motion and Foster seconded. Councilor Savino Sanchez was not present.

Peterson expressed his support of the proposed ordinance with the changes made during the council’s revisions — saying he didn’t support it prior to those changes.

Prior to Thursday evening’s meeting, the Legal Committee had reviewed the proposed ordinance on Sept. 27 and Oct. 25. The Roswell City Council approved a public hearing for November and the council then unanimously voted to table the measure in December, so it could be further reviewed by the Public Safety Committee and the Legal Committee.

The Public Safety Committee examined the ordinance on Jan. 15 and voted to send it to the Legal Committee.

Saying he was still uncomfortable with the proposed ordinance, Foster remained firm on his stance that the offenses on the nuisance activity list were inequitable — comparing weed violations and murder — and he offered the idea of using a ranking or point system for various nuisance activities.

Foster said he spoke with a landowner who lives in the county and had a vehicle stolen, and upon coming into contact with law enforcement was “cuffed and stuffed” on a warrant for weeds on his rental property. Foster added that the landlord said he was unaware of the violation and that he was not notified of the issue.

City Manager Joe Neeb; Mike Stanton, deputy police chief; and Mike Mathews, public safety director, said they either appreciated or understood Foster’s concerns and provided additional information at Thursday’s meeting.

Neeb said he believes the ordinance will reduce the number of complaints the city receives.

Misdemeanors

Bill Morris, community development director, recapped the definition of nuisance activities as behavior, activities or conduct resulting in a citation; of a nuisance violation as all such activities within a 24-hour period; and a nuisance property as one property with three or more documented nuisance violations in a 12-month period.

He said the “heart of the matter” was to create an abatement plan for nuisance activities with property owners and renters.

Parker Patterson, deputy city attorney, said the redrafted ordinance only works with misdemeanors that are already present in the city’s code of ordinances. Morris reiterated that no additional citations are being added and the intention is to address misdemeanors.

“The idea here is to start to look at addressing issues with the owner directly versus somebody who is causing the problems,” Morris said. “The owner is part of the problem — if there is a property that is constantly … needing service with the public safety type of folks or code enforcement issues.”

“So the intent, probably above all else, is to correct the action — is to do what the city can do to assist the property owner and help the neighbors keep their neighborhood up …” Stubbs said. “The police take care of an amazing amount of other things.”

Foster reiterated concerns about potential additional costs to the city — and about the ordinance being abused, causing citizens to be upset and nullifying the intent of the ordinance. In terms of potential abuse of the ordinance, Stanton said the court system acts as the check and balance.

Making contact

In regard to Foster’s experience with the landlord mentioned above, Stanton said he assumed the person was arrested for missing a court date and that could have happened as a result of having an outdated address.

Stanton said not being able to contact property owners has been a significant issue for the Roswell Police Department in addressing crime. He said he appreciates that the ordinance provides a mechanism for the city to have the ability to contact absentee landlords who might be unaware of issues on their properties.

In some cases, Neeb said even residents may not be aware of their offenses, and the ordinance allows the city to make contact with them.

Morris also said having current contact information would have helped with Town Plaza Apartments sooner. City officials in January posted notices warning the apartment complex would be condemned unless a range of reported maintenance issues were addressed.

One part of the abatement plan — for property owners to have a representative (within 60 miles of the city) to notify in case of public safety contact — was addressed by the committee. Stubbs brought attention to this section and changed it to read, to be contacted in the event of “further police, fire or inspection actions” — changing the word contact to actions.

Stubbs clarified that this contact was to be made in the instance of an abatement plan. Morris confirmed it is to “provide a bridge to the owner,” to maintain their responsibility as a property owner.

Foster pointed out the language of the ordinance said property owners would have five days to meet with the city, and Morris suggested changing “meet” to “contact.” Neeb agreed with this change and said making contact starts the process between the city and the owner.

The Legal Committee also approved advertisement of a public hearing for an ordinance with amendments to the zoning code.

Also approved were a resolution terminating the condemnation agreement with the county and a scope of services agreement with the Boys & Girls Club.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.