Zook seeks additions to city nuisance laws

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By Sharon Graves

Just the mention of the nuisance ordinance raised tempers and a heated exchange at City Council Monday night.

Art Zook, part-time city code enforcement officer, requested council to consider making changes to the nuisance ordinance, as well as create several new ordinances.

Zook presented to council a list of four recommendations he believes would help to improve the appearance of properties within the city of Carrollton.

Zook suggested amendments to the ordinance including a limit on  children’s toys from being left out in the yard of any residence, as well as plastic totes and other storage containers from porches.

He also suggests modification of the “rubbish” ordinance to include construction materials used for repairs, upkeep or modifications of existing structures, and wants a clarification in the “weeds” ordinance to include maintence of property between a fence and alleys.

Councilman Dean Miller Jr. took exception to Zook’s proposal to address toys left in yards and storage on front porches.

Zook explained that there are properties in the city limits that are continually strewn with toys that are never picked up. He said he isn’t referring to the occasional bicycle or basketball left lying in a yard, but numerous toys left out all year long, to the point where grass cannot be mowed.

“Toys in the yard are a little much,” Councilwoman Tammy McBurney said.

“We have a lot more things to worry about than these things,” Miller continued.

From there, Miller commented on how Zook has been handling the storage of demolition derby cars in yards.

“You’re not from here, and you don’t understand the hobbies people have,” Miller said.

“I take exception to your statement that I’m not from here,” Zook shot back. “I’ve lived here for six years. I know I’m not a well-liked person. I’m just doing the job the city hired me for.”

Many people who live in the city limits have attended City Council meetings in recent months after being cited for having nonoperational, unlicensed and/or uninsured vehicles on their properties.

Most of those are cars used in demolition derbies, which owners store in their yards. The vehicles are neither licensed nor insured, and because they cannot be driven on the street they are deemed non-running.

Zook explained to council that he has gotten rid of 95 cars in the city that were not running, unlicensed or uninsured.

What if I back my car into my driveway and you can’t see that my tags are expired,” asked Miller. “It is an invasion of my privacy [for you] to come on to my property and tell me I have to move my car.”

Mayor Dwight Louden said it is not an invasion of privacy for a city code-enforcement official to ask about whether or not a car is operational.

“The policy is, if the vehicle is on the street, the police can cite the owner,” Louden said. “And if it’s in a driveway or yard, the city code enforcement official can cite the owner.”

“A lot of the laws are discretionary and I think Art uses good discretion,” city attorney Nick Marsh said. “A lot of these [problems] are cleaned up with a warning.”

“Do we want to clean this town up or do we want to just let it go,” Councilman Mike Gordon asked.

Marsh tried to steer council back to the list Zook presented to them and said the weed ordinance already states that the property owner is responsible for property that extends from a fence to the middle of an alley.

And the city has an ordinance that prohibits indoor furniture and appliances from being stored on front porches, Marsh said.

But Zook brought up the problem of people storing plastic totes and boxes on porches. Gordon and others on council agreed with Zook that such storage containers shouldn’t be kept on porhces for months at a time.

Council asked Marsh to research the issues and come back with some ideas for ordinances that are amenable to council and that address the other two items on Zook’s list – namely a definition of rubbish and excessive toys in yards.

Code enforcement official and building inspector John Welch commended Zook on his work, and said that it has freed him up to do some of the other things he hasn’t been able to get to.

McBurney took that opportunity to question Welch on why his report uses the exact same wording on problem properties this month as were used in a report from April 2008.

“It doesn’t look like John is doing the job he’s supposed to be doing,” she said.

Welch answered that some properties take longer than others to either get the improvements made or to get them condemned.