Council Looking At Property Maintenance Issue

By 
Hope Huger

   

  Although their numbers may be small, there are abandoned or poorly maintained properties in Lexington.

Those properties, say city officials, can create health and safety issues by drawing in unwanted animals and fostering invasive vegetation, which often also infringe upon neighboring estates. Also, a number of these properties are tax delinquent, and are evading taxes for which the city will likely not be reimbursed. 

The issue of how the city could address these properties was presented to City Council at its regular meeting Sept. 1, and will be discussed again this Thursday night.

City Manager Jim Halasz and City Attorney Jared Jenkins are proposing updating and/or adopting city codes to allow the city to better manage these properties of concern.

Halasz noted that many of the city’s property codes have not been updated for some time. Under Lexington’s current code, nothing can be done to these properties unless the health department labels it as a health risk. Council member David Sigler asked Jenkins how he felt Lexington’s ability to deal with these properties compared to other municipalities.

In response, Jenkins said, “I was actually a little surprised when I started looking at the lack of really any authority in the Lexington code to do much of anything except cut grass and vegetation.”

He continued, “For example, the nuisance ordinance which the state allows is fairly broad in terms of what is considered a nuisance property and the power of the municipality to go and clean it up. Lexington’s nuisance code is very much tied to the health department and there being a health risk for the property.”

Council member Marylin Alexander wondered how the health department determines a property a health hazard, particularly vacant houses. Jenkins explained that the health department cites a property depending upon the issues it is creating within its own boundaries and adjacent properties.

In many of these cases, there is a need for vegetation, brush, and junk or debris cleanup. A lot of these properties are untouched because ownership is wavering with a recent deed transfer and/or there is no clear heir or will.

The city does not have the power to manage these trouble properties.

Jenkins said, “… there are some ordinances that we could adopt that give the city authority, if it is not to the level of enforcement, but if it is a nuisance or an eyesore or causing other problems then the city has the authority to go in and repair or demolish, depending on the circumstances.”

The term “eyesore” triggered a few remarks and questions from Council members; “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” said Charles Aligood said. Both Aligood and Council member Dennis Ayers questioned what constituted an “eye-sore.”

Ayers said, “Is there a jurisdiction that you would be looking at as a model? When you say properties are an eyesore, who would make that determination? I think it’s a bit of a sticky situation.”

Jenkins said that Lynchburg has been looking at this issue and attempting to create a viable approach at identifying nuisance properties.

He said, “One of the overall issues is this has traditionally been a complaint-driven process that the city doesn’t do a whole lot unless someone affirmatively complains about the property. I think the current thought is to have a more comprehensive, proactive approach by staff to go out and identify these properties.”

Currently, there are 10-15 properties that Jenkins’ team has already pinpointed as nuisance properties, he said.

                                                              

                                                              

 

 

 

 

 

                                                              

 

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