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Nuisance property ordinance back for rewrite

By Staff | Apr 25, 2013

JIM LINETTE Sanibel's proposed nuisance or neglected property ordinance would give city planners another tool to address primarily vacant properties, residential or commercial, perhaps even this one on Tarpon Bay Road.

Planning Department staff were directed by Sanibel Plan Commissioners to redraft the proposed ordinance regarding nuisance or neglected properties incorporating several points of concern raised at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

The ordinance idea was first raised in a City Council session in September through a staff presentation that included ordinances in effect in other communities. Council agreed that the ordinance is needed on Sanibel though to a lesser degree than some communities dealing with massive foreclosures and abandoned properties falling into various states of disrepair.

Council sent the ordinance draft to the Plan Commission and staff for review and revision.

It made its way onto commission agendas for discussion on several occasions, the most recent of which was Tuesday.

Commissioner Chuck Ketteman raised a concern with the language of the ordinance that he deemed too vague.

“I think we’ve got to be more specific with the wording,” Ketteman said. “What properties are subject to this ordinance. We have a number of homeowner associations on this island with their own rules and they enforce it.”

Commissioner Phillip Marks was disappointed that the ordinance did not include vacant lots.

“Two or three lots on one street can be just as damaging to property values as a lot with a home on it,” said Marks. “And what about lots overgrown with weeds and perhaps some trash on it?”

Planning director James Jordan pointed out that City Council purposely removed references dealing with landscaping and vacant lots.

“There are rules and regulations on the books now regarding vegetation, trash and debris,” said Jordan. “This is just another tool we need to address the worst cases.”

City attorney Ken Cuyler pointed out that council removed landscaping from the ordinance in order to gain support.

“This ordinance is new and it has a lot of support,” said Cuyler. “It does not require us to intrude on vacant lots to remove any vegetation because it takes a development order to do something with it. That’s not what you want government to get involved in. Normally, we don’t have code officers walking on properties to look at issues even if you can see them from the street. We get enough complaints to determine if a property is distressed.”

Commissioner Tom Krekel kicked around the idea that the ordinance could be applied to all property on the island whether occupied or not.

Commissioner Holly Smith stated her priority in looking at the ordinance is the health and safety of the public.

Commissioner Chris Heidrick suggested the ordinance does not go far enough.

“What do we do about things not specified in the ordinance?” Heidrick said. “I think we need a catch-all term for some things where an owner could say they weren’t going to do something because it was not specifically stated in the ordinance.”

“We have some nuisance regulations now,” added Cuyler. “This is just another tool to help us address other code regulations. It’s for the more egregious cases and not to get into everyone’s property. We don’t have a huge number of properties on the island (in disrepair). As an optimist I think we are coming in on the tail end of foreclosures. If it’s abandoned and not in disrepair it is okay, but when issues start cropping up we will proceed.”

Commissioners were reminded from public comments that “some law is helpful to homeowners associations” in getting properties to comply. Also, that determining one owner’s “mess” could be another’s “treasure” is a balancing act that should be avoided.

Instead of voting to send the resolution back to City Council, it was Ketteman who made a motion to send the ordinance back to staff for a rewrite taking the points raised into consideration and bring it back to the commission at a future date for another review.

Commissioners meet again on May 14.