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Council retracts nuisance ordinance hearing

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Citizen expresses frustrations and issues with local ‘slumlord’

 

More review on the proposed nuisance ordinance was deemed necessary by the Roswell City Council.

The proposed nuisance ordinance would modify the current city code and add a new article. A nuisance property is determined after three or more nuisance activities on private property resulting in law enforcement response in a 12-month timeframe. On these grounds, the city and property owner would enter into an abatement plan to address issues on the premises. Bill Morris, community development director, explained that if no abatement agreement could be reached, then property owners would be charged for public safety calls or other citations could be looked into.

At a special meeting on Tuesday night, city staff including Police Chief Phil Smith and Bill Bartlett, code enforcement supervisor, presented to and fielded questions from all 10 city councilors in the meeting room at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center at 912 N. Main St. City staff maintained their position that the ordinance would be another avenue to assist the public safety departments.

City Manager Joe Neeb explained the ordinance had been before the council for consideration for about a year now and has evolved over this timeframe. Neeb said the intention of the proposed ordinance was to take back neighborhoods facing properties and tenants where the Roswell Police Department (RPD) and Code Enforcement had been called to multiple times.

Once each councilor had an opportunity to speak on the matter, Councilor Caleb Grant said there seemed to be a consensus among the council that more work was needed, while most of the councilors agreed with the concept of assisting the city’s public safety departments, but were unsure how the ordinance would be executed.

City Councilor Jacob Roebuck said he was “a little disappointed” that staff did not provide numbers and the financial costs if the proposed ordinance was implemented. Later in the meeting, Morris said out of 70,000 RPD calls, that there were 1,300 calls at locations with three or four violations and 925 with five violations. Morris said the top five violations at code enforcement were as follows: 4,700 for weeds, 800 unsanitary premises, 740 litter, 488 inoperable vehicles and 273 code-enforcement-specific public nuisances.

City Clerk Sharon Coll clarified that a public hearing had been approved for the April meeting, but could be retracted.

Each councilor repeated their various positions on the ordinance and, after lengthy discussion, Councilor Judy Stubbs made the motion to send the ordinance back to Legal Committee and retract the public hearing announcement. Councilor Barry Foster seconded and the vote was unanimous.

Three residents, Bobby Maples, Riley Armstrong and Gary Hartwick all chose to speak during public participation.

Maples explained he has been living in a western neighborhood in Ward 1 of Roswell for over 20 years and has been dealing with a local landlord, who he compared to a “slumlord” who owns four properties nearby that he called “drug houses.” Despite working with the Roswell Police Department to address the issues, Maples said he has experienced having two dogs poisoned, had his home broken into multiple times and has dealt with vagrants as neighbors. Within the last two weeks, Maples said he heard gunshots and saw two felons being arrested and released.

“What do I do?” Maples said. “I’m out of ideas, guys. I’ve tried everything I can within my power and he (the landlord) still does it. There’s nobody that’s done anything to it. If they don’t get meth at this house, they go to this one, this one and then this one — and it’s been like that forever. I was a young man when I first started this. I fought hands, fists, I broke arms, black eyes — I got the neighborhood straightened up. I’m an old guy now. I don’t want to do it no more — and I shouldn’t have to sit in my living room with a loaded pistol. I’m sorry. If you guys can help me, man, I sure would appreciate it because I’m at my wit’s end and it’s not fair. They’re neighborhood killers.”

Armstrong explained he is the co-owner of IIR (Invest In Roswell) property management services, which manages 300 homes, and is concerned about who the ordinance targets. Armstrong said condemnations and evictions would be the “cure” and suggested that the city should not place burdens on owners and agents. Councilor Savino Sanchez called Armstrong back to the lectern to finish his statements and ask specific questions.

“And before that, there would be an attempt to contact the owner and work with the property owner to come up with an abatement plan first,” Morris said when he was asked about fines or charges to property owners. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We’ve said that all along that we’re trying to solve a problem, not fine the owner. That’s not the first step at all. It’s the last thing we want to do. What we want to do is take care of the problem …”

Agreeing with Armstrong to make evictions easier, Gary Hartwick said he rents houses and would like to rent out more in Roswell. Hartwick said the proposed ordinance was not a well-written document and said he had annotations on almost every paragraph.

“As a landlord, I’m scared of this document,” Hartwick said. “I mean, I’m not a police officer. I don’t have the protections of a police officer. If I have a tenant that’s beating up somebody, I can’t walk in there. I have no protection to do so … I don’t think most landlords want to be put in a situation that they’re between the city and a tenant. If you, the city, have a problem — if you the city, the police and the courts have a problem with somebody, you need to deal with it — not try to make it my responsibility, because I don’t have legal rights to do so and I don’t have the powers and protections to do so…”

Most of the councilors referenced Maples’ story in their speeches and during Councilor Juan Oropesa’s comments, Maples stood up, raised his voice while walking out and RPD Chief Smith and another officer escorted Maples out.

Mayor Dennis Kintigh explained that Maples reached out to him personally and Kintigh said he was partially responsible for Maples’ presence at the meeting.

For some background, 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 2-1 to send it to the Legal Committee. Legal Committee voted 3-0 for the proposed ordinance to be advertised for a public hearing on Jan. 31.

At the full City Council meeting on Feb. 14, Councilor Stubbs made an amended motion to advertise for a public hearing at a future City Council meeting, after originally specifying the March meeting, and Councilor Grant was the second. Councilor Oropesa and Mayor Kintigh suggested the council hold a forum or workshop on the proposed ordinance for extended discussion before the public hearing in April.

As prompted by the mayor, Tuesday’s special meeting ended after the council discussed capital outlay that may affect the city if signed by the governor.

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