By Oliver Lazenby
Code violations such as dilapidated structures, excessive yard waste and junk vehicles have accumulated in Blaine faster than city staff could deal with them. But the tide is turning and in March the city began resolving some of the violations in its backlog.
Since starting work a little more than a month ago, new community planner Maddie Ottley has identified roughly 52 properties with code violations and sent letters to at least 22 of the property owners.
The letters are informal and ask for voluntary compliance, Ottley said. The city is hoping property owners will voluntarily comply with codes after being notified of violations, but fines could come later. Several cases have already been resolved, Ottley said.
The letters are the first step in an enforcement process that city staff has been working toward for a while. Last year, council passed a code enforcement ordinance aimed at making violations easier to enforce and funded additional employee hours for the project, which allowed Ottley to join city staff.
“We now have the manpower to shrink the number of violations and we should be able to keep them at a minimum,” said Michael Jones, community development director.
The city tracks nuisances through written complaints or by noticing them from a public right of way. So far Ottley is working from a list of violations that includes 25 for dangerous structures, 14 for debris/trash, six for vegetation, three for parking and four environment violations.
“The city has always enforced the codes. However, our capacity to do that was limited due to limited staff resources,” Jones said. “We have a large number of violations that haven’t been addressed.”
If property owners don’t deal with code issues voluntarily, the city will send a notice of civil violation. Code violators would then have 15 days to respond, either by contesting the determination, requesting a hearing with the hearing examiner or working out a correction plan with the city.
The city can also issue fines of up to $250 per day to code violators.
Ottley and other city staff are also updating the section of Blaine’s municipal code (section 2.54) that deals with enforcing violations and have proposed some minor changes.
For properties with multiple violations, for example, the code currently dictates charging a daily fee per violation. Ottley suggested one daily fine per property, rather than per violation.
“We’re fine-tuning that right now,” Ottley said.
The city doesn’t have a timeline for resolving the current code violations and is dealing with them on a case-by-case basis. Many of the violations are minor, Jones said, and city officials hope most will be resolved voluntarily.
“There are others that will be large and time-consuming projects – demolition of a derelict building, for example,” Jones said. “So some things will take a long time but we expect most will be cleared up in the next three to six months.”
According to Jones, Blaine City Council dedicated more resources to code enforcement in hopes of improving quality of life and spurring economic development in Blaine.
“My impression of council’s decision is that it was very much in the tone of economic development,” he said. “A clean and well-kept city is a better place to live, it’s a better place to invest in.”