Denison city officials are looking at ways to speed up the time frame for addressing code compliance issues and increasing minimum property standards for properties throughout the city. These plans and others came up as a point of discussion during the city’s recent budget retreat.
Discussed plans included expanding the city’s demolitions program to include occupied residences that are a severe safety hazard to the occupant or neighbors.
“I really think the city council has made it abundantly clear that they want to raise the bar with minimum property standards,” Denison Development Services Director Gabe Reaume said Tuesday.
Reaume outlined plans for the city to adjust its policies and practices to add efficiency and speed to what can be a lengthy process that lasts months. Among the issues the city is looking to address are lingering extensions on minimum property standards cases, various code violations, home disrepair and limited code compliance staff.
This comes as the city has seen a steady increase in code enforcement cases in recent years. In 2014, the city saw 4,394 cases with 5,413 coming only two years later. In that same time, the number of citations issued rose from 22 to 195. For the first quarter of 2017, the city has seen more than 2,300 cases and has issued 93 citations.
As an example of these issues, Reaume spoke about a case he referred to as the “pied piper of Gandy Street,” referring to a fable of a piper who charmed rats with a flute. When crews from the city came to address complaints about debris and trash outside the property, Reaume said they were met with piles of soiled baby diapers that stood several feet tall, among other pieces of debris and refuse. As the garbage was loaded into a truck, city crews watched rodents flee the scene, Reaume said.
“It was truly a case of health and human safety,” he said.
In an attempt to address other issues of health and human safety, Reaume also proposed changes to the city’s demolition policy that give it more flexibility to demolish inhabited structures. Reaume said this would be limited and used only in situations where there was an immediate threat to safety.
In previous cases, Reaume said the city has waited until the tenants of some of these structures have left before moving forward. However, in other cases the threat the safety is dire enough that the city cannot delay its response, he said.
As an example of this, Reaume referred to a case of an elderly individual who was living in a home on Coffin Street without power or water. The dilapidated home was in such poor shape that the resident would enter the home by crawling into a crack in the wall.
Though the situation had a happy ending, Reaume said it is an example of a situation the city needs to address.
“The reality is that code enforcement has a list of properties that you can visibly see are unsafe,” Reaume said.
Among the other changes proposed during Friday’s retreat were ways the city could add efficiency to notifications of compliance issues. Previously, notices of compliance issues would be mailed to the owner of the property, however, Reaume proposed using door hangers as an alternative that would reduce delays associated with the postal system.
As an additional step to reducing the compliance times, Reaume said he wanted to reduce the number of extensions for compliance the city offers violators, noting that many times these cause the cases to drag out. Reaume proposed limiting the extensions for cases that do not approach the city for assistance or work to comply within the 30-day window.
For some code violations and tall grass issues, Reaume proposed reducing the notification time before the city will address the issue from a minimum seven days to five days. In practice, however, Reaume said it is often about 10 days before the city responds to unremedied violations.
Speaking specifically on grass violations, Reaume proposed that the city give notice of violation only once per season rather than with each incident of violation. Other places where the city is proposing to expedite compliance efforts include bulk trash disposal and improper parking, he said.
As ways the city can assist in these efforts, Reaume spoke briefly on a proposed incentive program that would offer tax rebates for residential renovation projects. Reaume also proposed $20,000 in the 2017-2018 budget for financial assistance for residents with property standards issues.
As a part of the discussions, Reaume proposed two possible target areas for minimum property enforcement during the upcoming year. Option one would focus efforts on the six-block radius surrounding downtown. There are 460 properties within the radius, with 177 identified with minimum property standards violations.
As a secondary option, Reaume proposed focusing efforts on Mirick Avenue, Coffin Street and Main Street. The city has identified 70 properties in the area, with 20 identified as having property standards violations.
In 2016, the city focused these efforts on Loy Lake Road, and later Austin Avenue. With this year’s proposals, Reaume said he wanted to continue the focus on the major gateways into the community.