Saline Considers Tools to Fight Blight

 07/16/2013 - 15:10

The City of Saline may strengthen ordinances and hire a full-time inspector in an effort to get tougher with owners who’ve let their property fall into disrepair.

At a work meeting Monday evening, Saline City Council met with city attorney Scott Smith, superintendent Gary Roubal and building inspector Tillman Taylor. They talked about the kind of tools the city can employ to ensure owners are keeping properties in line with health, safety and aesthetical standards.

The issue of blighted property has come up several times at recent council meetings – especially with regard to Thorncrest Apartments on Clark Street. City council members seemed in agreement that most owners  maintain their homes and properties, but there is also agreement that creeping blight should be dealt with.

“Most homeowners and property owners take pride in the property they are responsible for. Properties in disrepair are few and far between,” Mayor Brian Marl said. “But Saline is a special place – an exceptional place. Average or barely good enough is not good enough in my book.”

City Attorney Scott Smith said there are good reasons to deal with blight before it becomes a serious problem.

“Keeping up appearances is easier than bringing up appearances,” Smith told council.

He noted that when New York City began to tackle problems of street crime, it began by attacking blight.

“As you raise physical standards, you raise people’s perception of the community,” Smith said.

Smith said it was important to tailor regulation to each community.

“We don’t want to kill flies with bazookas,” Smith said. “We want fly killing mechanisms.”

Saline’s answer will likely come from tweaking existing ordinances. Some council members were uncomfortable with the idea of burdening homeowners and property owners with heavy regulation.

“I’m not in favor of adding a property maintenance code. Sometimes we forget that this community, overall, looks good.  I’ve heard several comments from people visiting Saline about how neat, clean and orderly our city appears,” Councilor David Rhoads said.  “I really don’t want to add regulations and I don’t want to have people driving around looking for things to write tickets for.”

Councilor Dean Girbach said existing ordinances seem to lack the teeth necessary to  coax people into taking care of issues. He referenced a dumpster that sat in a yard for a year without being moved, a house with siding stripped off  and problems with sidewalks. Girbach also noted that years of downsizing essentially left the city without the manpower to enforce ordinances.

“We don’t have the tools in place to handle issues in a timely manner,” Girbach said.

Tillman Taylor, the city’s building inspector, spends about 25 percent of his time on ordinance enforcement.  Taylor told council that existing ordinance, for the most part, is thorough enough. He would like to see more language about blighted structures.

Marl said he’d like to see a full-time ordinance officer within the ranks of the Department of Public Works.

The city attorney is expected to have ordinance recommendations to the city staff in the next month. The issue should be before city council by September.

Tran Longmoore
Tran Longmoore founded The Saline Post on Aug. 15, 2012. Follow him on Twitter at @tranlongmoore. Follow The Saline Post @thesalinepost. Follow The Saline Post on Facebook by clicking here.