Blaine adopts stricter codes for derelict buildings

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By Ian Ferguson

On Valentine’s Day 2013, Blaine Bouquet’s sewer outflow pipe backed up during their busiest time of the year, and a plumber informed the owners that the deteriorating building next door was the likely culprit.

This story and many others like it have prompted Blaine city staff to address the numerous buildings in downtown Blaine that have fallen into disrepair. Following unanimous approval by Blaine City Council members at their last meeting, Blaine has adopted stricter code enforcement for derelict buildings and nuisance properties.

City council voted 7–0 on September 14 to approve three new ordinances amending the Blaine Municipal Code (BMC) and update the unified fee schedule for 2015. Ordinance 15-2864 deals with public nuisances such as piles of garbage, junk vehicles and attractive nuisances that might be hazardous to children. Ordinance 15-2868 applies to “unfit, improperly maintained or substandard structures or premises.” Ordinance 15-2869 sets forth administrative procedures to enforce the BMC, including notification, voluntary correction, stop-work orders, abatement, hearings before the hearing examiner, lien authorization and fees.

“The intent is to make it easier to enforce these codes,” city planner Michael Jones explained in a phone interview. “Before, property owners simply got a ticket and went to court, where they were slapped with a heavy fine. It was a burden to the city in terms of legal fees, and also harsh for the property owners. Now, there is an administrative process in place.”

The process begins when the city receives a written complaint or the code enforcement officer (COE) notices a violation from a public right-of-way and verifies that a violation exists. The COE may then reach out to the property owner and work with him or her to voluntarily fix the problem. Next a notice is sent to the property owner, with a 15-day response window during which the property owner can contest the determination, request a hearing or work out a voluntary correction plan with the city. Hearings can be appealed to Whatcom County Superior Court.

If the administrative process fails to address the issue, the city may abate the problem using any lawful means, with the property owner liable for the costs. The city may put a lien against the property to recuperate abatement costs. Monetary penalties and fees of up to $250 per day add further incentive for property owners to fix the violation.

“There’s still due process and access to the hearing examiner,” Jones said. “We are hopeful that by working with property owners up front, we can get them to willingly clean up their properties before any fees or penalties are imposed.”

In a study session on June 8, city staff provided the council with information regarding proposed processes and amendments to the BMC. Public hearings were held August 10, August 24 and September 14.

The ordinances are part of a broader effort by Blaine city staff and community members to clean up the downtown area, Jones explained.

To read the ordinances in full, go to tinyurl.com/necof6j.

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