Owensboro Public Works Director Wayne Shelton asked City commissioners Tuesday to consider updating the property maintenance ordinance in several different ways. The current ordinance has limitations and restrictions that Shelton would like to see changed in order to better serve the community of Owensboro.
One thing Shelton wants to see amended is the definition of certain property terms, such as “privacy fence.” Shelton showed a picture of a dilapidated fence and told commissioners — though he didn’t believe a barely standing fence fit the criteria of a privacy fence — the current ordinance doesn’t clearly differentiate between what does and doesn’t constitute one.
“Defined terms and definitions enhance the understanding of requirements,” he said. “Definition changes seek to clarify, qualify and quantify components of the ordinance.”
Other definitions Shelton would like to see clarified or added include back yard, clear space, code enforcement officers, demolition, driveway, garage, hobby vehicles, junked appliances and junked motor vehicles. Shelton said clarifying these terms would allow Public Works to issue citations based on a defined term and combat sanitation issues that may come with residents who keep unkempt or hazardous properties in the City.
“The current ordinance allows you to hide things in the backyard behind a privacy fence,” he said. “That turns some areas into a junkyard.”
Out-of-ordinary view needs to be clarified as something covered by a tarp or a blanket so that it’s out of the “ordinary view” requirements, Shelton said. Under the current standards, Public Works has encountered PVA addresses that are listed but are abandoned, so warnings and citations are returned back to Public Works.
“This change requests all rental properties have the owner provide contact information regarding the maintenance and upkeep of properties,” Shelton said.
For abandoned and neglected properties — oftentimes surrounded by tall weeds and grass — Shelton would like to see an amended ordinance allow Public Works to immediately take action, rather than issue a warning, give the property owner time to fix the issue, and then issue a citation.
“For repeat offenders, we can immediately act to correct this situation,” he said of the amended ordinance.
The current ordinance doesn’t allow for violations and citations that shouldn’t have been issued to be vacated.
“On a property that fails to abade the citation, we can issue a citation for each offense on that property, and each of them may carry a fine up to $100 in value,” he said. “So we can separate offenses such as trash, tall grass, dilapidated structure and each one would carry its own separate penalty.”
Shelton showed commissioners a picture of a dilapidated structure at 501 Gardenside Drive, which was surrounded by trash and tall weeds. The property has recently been transferred, which puts the property in a renewed state, Shelton said.
“Under this change, if we’re going to change property owners like this one, then we’re going to require demolition within 120 days,” he said. “Or, if you have the desire to rehab it, you can post a $10,000 rehab bond and have 90 days to get a building permit and 12 months to bring the property to substantial compliance.”
This amendment would eliminate the [sometimes] five-year waiting period and allow the demolition to happen if the property owner isn’t serious about rehabilitating it.
Hoarding issues have also occurred at multiple homes across Owensboro, Shelton said. An amended ordinance could help lessen the outdoor hoarding issues across the City.
“Current standards has a tolerance for storing all this stuff behind, out of ordinary view,” he said. “We’ve given them opportunities to create a junkyard or storage yard in the backyard. Now, we’re looking to change the allowance or tolerance of what you can have in your backyard.”
This change would allow property owners to store materials in five percent of the clear space of a fenced-in backyard, out of ordinary view and protected from the elements.
Mayor Tom Watson said he wanted to create a system that allowed Public Works — not City Hall — to take on these various issues, but agreed with Shelton’s proposed ordinance changes, though none were voted on at Tuesday’s meeting.