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Nuisance properties ordinance approved

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Pictured are City Attorney Aaron Holloman and City Auditor Juan Fuentes at a May Roswell City Council meeting. Holloman presented the final version of the chronic nuisance ordinance before the 10 councilors on June 13. A public hearing was held, but no residents chose to speak. (Alison Penn Photo)

City manager: Measure provides ‘least intrusive method’ of informing property owners

After more than a year of review, the nuisance properties ordinance was passed by the Roswell City Council.

A public hearing was held on the ordinance at the June 13 meeting. When Mayor Dennis Kintigh called for public participation, no one elected to speak on the proposed ordinance in any way.

All 10 city councilors were present at the meeting. City Councilor Judy Stubbs made the motion and City Councilor Barry Foster seconded. After discussion, the roll call vote passed the measure 9-1 with City Councilor Juan Oropesa voting in opposition.

Changes 

City Attorney Aaron Holloman gave a quick presentation stating that the ordinance would address chronic nuisance properties that have repeat offenses and calls for service from the city’s law enforcement and emergency medical services. He said the ordinance had gone through “significant changes” after a special meeting April 2, when the council retracted a public hearing and voted unanimously for the Legal Committee to review the ordinance again.

A property is determined to be a chronic nuisance when four nuisance events — originally drafted as three — occur within a one-year period. Holloman said the city would have to give a notice explaining process and appeal rights to property owners and tenants in question.

Pursuant to city code or state statute equivalent, the following municipal offenses are considered nuisance events in the ordinance: battery, possession of drug paraphernalia, disorderly house, discharge of a firearm, negligent use of a weapon, littered properties and storage, inoperative vehicles. Two other events would be within code enforcement purview and those are weeds and dangerous buildings or debris.

After a chronic nuisance determination, property owners must contact City Manager Joe Neeb or a designee. Property owners, city staff and renters would meet to create an abatement plan to stop nuisance events. Holloman said this contact with the city manager could be by phone or electronically. It also requires local contact to represent an out-of-town landlord.

Holloman said renters would be included in the discussion and it was added that “outright eviction should not be the first solution that is provided” for renters at a chronic nuisance property.

If the abatement plan is not followed or a property owner can’t be reached, council would consider a resolution charging property owners for repeated calls of service. Holloman said a judge would also have to make a determination on the situation.

Holloman said a nuisance event is only one activity, event or occurrence in a 48-hour timeframe — addressing councilors’ concerns that property owners could be cited for multiple offenses in a day and thereby qualify as a nuisance property.

In drafting the ordinance, Neeb said the city wanted the “least intrusive method” for property owners to be aware of incidents at their properties “and the impact to our community.”

As provided in the sunset clause, Holloman said the ordinance would expire in three years unless council decides to continue it. Councilor Steve Henderson said a “bad ordinance is better than no ordinance at all” and the provisions in the sunset clause would be a “saving grace.”

Pros and cons

Councilor Savino Sanchez asked about pros and cons of the ordinance. Sanchez also asked Holloman to explain how the ordinance was different from the process the city had already.

Holloman’s pro was the city would be able to examine the nuisance properties and hold property owners accountable for multiple or continued nuisance activities, without the hassle of the city going through the same process for every single event after four offenses. After four offenses, the nuisance properties process would kick in.

“The biggest con in this is that it is new and we don’t have any concrete way to know how effective it’s going to be,” Holloman said. “It’s an idea that we have had. We believe that it will have some effectiveness, but I think that ultimately the proof is going to be in what actually happens once the program gets started.”

Councilor Jacob Roebuck asked how many properties in the city would qualify as nuisance properties currently. Neeb said the estimate from an analysis is there would 20-40 cases at most on an annual basis.

When Roebuck asked why four instead of three instances, Kintigh said four offenses would show a “definitive pattern” of nuisance activities. Roebuck said the council and staff have put in “a lot of work” and he was hopeful that the ordinance will assist the city.

After Councilor Judy Stubbs thanked the mayor for his efforts, she drew attention to the appeal process allowing citizens to contact City Clerk Sharon Coll within 30 days of the assessment of the first charge. Holloman said this ordinance’s appeal process mirrors weeds and condemnation statutes.

Kintigh also said an individual could go to district court to appeal the council’s decision and Holloman confirmed this.

Neeb said the ordinance would align with current law enforcement efforts and provide an avenue for dealing with repeat offenders when their neighbors are frustrated with “red tape and our systems.” He also said no staff members have spoken against the ordinance.

Bill Morris, community development director, reminded the council that if “unanticipated issues” arise the ordinance could be modified as needed by the governing body.

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