City Targets Dirty Properties

SALISBURY — The Mayor and City Council discussed at this week’s meeting proposed ordinances to clean up the streets and properties of rubbish and nuisance trees and plants throughout the city.

The first ordinance discussed defined rubbish as “trash from normal household living conditions…tree branches, yard trimmings, tin cans, metals, mineral matters, glass, abandoned or inoperable machinery, unregistered marine equipment, including boats and towing trailers (in which the registration has expired exceeds one year)…debris from building construction or reconstruction, uprooted tree stumps, street refuse and other waste materials, provided, however, that as used in this article, “rubbish” shall not be construed or interpreted so as to include any abandoned, unlicensed or inoperable motor vehicle.”

Upon violation, a letter of notice will be sent stating that the “condition” must be removed from the property within 10 days. Upon failing to do so, the Director of the Department of Neighborhood Services and Code Compliance Tom Stevenson will have the city remove the “condition”, and because the city would pay for the removal of the rubbish a fine of $100 will be administered to the owner to cover the costs.

Vice President Gary Comegys had concern over the language of “yard trimmings” because the city is encouraging citizens to be more environmentally friendly and felt the ordinance may discourage owners from participating in compost. City

Attorney Paul Wilber suggested the addition of the language “non-composting” to address Comegys’ concern.

Comegy added that the ordinance is addressed to homeowners, rental properties and commercial properties.

“I think this is a perfect opportunity to hit the tenants. The occupants that are leasing the property,” Comegys said. “Commercial properties are owned by people all over the country. Who is served with this notice should be those who have use of the property.”

Wilber said that the best practice would be to send a notice to both property owners and occupants.

“We can only collect against the owner on the real estate tax part of it but there always potential for municipal infraction against the occupant,” Wilber said.

Councilwoman Terry Cohen said that the typical procedure when the city has dealt with property owners and their tenants was not to become caught in the middle.

“The government is supposed to shy away from insinuating itself between contractual relationships in that regard,” she said. “I think we need to discuss that further, we don’t want to open something that is out of practice with that operation.”

Councilwoman Deborah Campbell motioned that with the amount of questions the council has the best option would be to send the ordinance back to a work session to discuss it further, and the council voted unanimously to do so.

The next item on the agenda, tree and plant trimming or removal, seemed to go hand in hand with the proposed “rubbish” ordinance.

According to Stevenson, the legislation will provide the housing official with the tools necessary to address the issue of overrun tree, shrub or other plant growth.

The ordinance states, “Every owner of an area, lot or parcel of land shall trim or otherwise remove or cause to be cut nuisance tree or plant growth or portions thereof.”

It defines nuisance tree or plants growth as “all large, established trees no properly pruned to sufficient height to allow free passage for pedestrian and vehicular traffic, which shall be seven feet over a sidewalk and 14 feet over a street or any dead wood, stubs, broken branches, badly formed branches, disease infected and insect-infested branches, and branches interfering with public travel, lighting, existing buildings and traffic signs.”.

Councilwoman Eugenie Shields had concerns because the city should be setting an example on how it keeps its own properties maintained.

“I hear people saying that we don’t take care of our property,” she said. “I think to be an example we should have something in place on how we need to maintain our properties.”

Council President Louise Smith agreed with Shields, saying, “I think the city needs to do a better job of setting the example…when the city does do a better job that is when I can support this.”

Mayor James Ireton became frustrated over the fact that members of the council felt uncomfortable in moving forward with the proposed ordinances.

“Both on rubbish, trees…I want to make it clear to the public that this administration has done everything that the council has asked them to do,” Ireton said. “For some rhyme or reason now these things are being taken off of there [the agenda]. If anyone says anything to me about the costs of legal or the costs of staff, I am going to cite these three items of this administration doing what was exactly told of them in work sessions…and showing up here and categorically things are different…we get here and things have changed.”

The council voted 4-1, with Smith in opposition, to move the proposed ordinance concerning overrun trees and plants to second reading, while the ordinance concerning the accumulation of rubbish on properties was left behind.