Fighting blight in Tyler

Property owners, renters told to clean up yards or face the consequences

Photo by Jody Isaackson Residents attending the Tyler City Council meeting expressed concerns over blighted properties.

TYLER — Homeowners and renters accused of violating the city code involving blight conditions have been warned.

Tyler City Administrator Robert Wolfington told a crowd of 30 people and members of the city council inside the fire hall meeting room Monday night that alleged violators have been told to clean up their yards or face the consequences.

“This weekend a dozen letters have been given out and several of them have been cleaned up already,” Tyler Police Chief John Spindler told the council. “Some are new to town and didn’t know about the city code. It’s been our policy in the past to give them an opportunity to correct it as long as they’re making an effort.”

The discussion at the blight mitigation special meeting centered on exactly what the circumstances might be if they didn’t.

City Attorney Glen Petersen said the city council could decide to go either of two ways.

“You could go the usual route with letters and court dates that take a long time,” Petersen said, “or you can authorize the police to give out tickets to property owners who do not comply.”

Hitting the property owners in the pocketbook could possibly get their attention quicker than the long route, he said.

Some council members were of the belief that officials making the delivery of the nuisance ordinance ramifications would have more of an impact than a simple letter asking them to clean up their yard.

When Mayor Greg Peter called the meeting to order, he recognized the willingness of the Tyler Regional Economic Development (TRED) to help with blight mitigation.

At the previous meeting, the council had begun the discussion on Chapter 10 of the Nuisance Violation Code and giving law enforcement authority to visit with those property owners whose properties are in violation of the code.

Those property owners were also invited to this open meeting of the council.

“At this time we have two properties that the city attorney is working on mitigating,” Wolfington said. “At this point, it seems prudent to have police officers working with the city utilities workers to identify these properties.”

The utilities workers have increased opportunities to see the backyards of property owners than mere passersby and and corroborate the claims of neighbors who may complain about vehicles parked on the grass or unsightly collections of junk.

“Where do we draw the line when it comes to what people consider junk?” Peter said. “If we go far enough, we’ll be permitting (issuing permits for) lawn ornaments.”

Council member Scott Dressen had plenty to say about blight mitigation.

“The police department sounded pretty upset at the last council meeting about getting thrown under the bus,” Dressen said.

But Peter told Dressen to stay on topic.

“I don’t want to hash over what happened in the past,” he said. “I want to come up with a plan and to move forward.”

“I guess that’s why we’re all here,” Dressen said.

“We’ve been working on this thing for over a year,” council member Kenny Jensen said. “It’s time to take (quicker) action.”

“It’s not going to be cleaned up overnight,” Spindler said. “It’s going to take a while, even with citations.”

The problem with the civil process involving court action, is that it gets cleaned up and in six months, it’s back to being messed up, Petersen said.

“If they get personal contact from law enforcement or city council members, it makes a difference,” he said. “That’s a liability they don’t want.”

The process in the code is set up to clean up dilapidated buildings and abate those kinds of nuisances on back taxes, the attorney said.

Taking quicker action without going through the whole process would save more time than just cleaning up a few little messes around town, Petersen said.

“Parking on the yard isn’t covered in the code,” Wolfington said, “unless the vehicle doesn’t have license tabs.”

“Maybe it’s time to revisit the code,” Petersen said. “If you’re going to prohibit that kind of activity, you might want to take the pulse of your community first.”

Discussion of valid reasons why someone would park on their yard and not in the street or on a driveway ensued. It seemed OK if the property isn’t seen from the street or if it doesn’t bother the neighbors.

“The problem is grass is growing around them,” Dressen said. The code requires the grass to be cut when it reaches 6 inches in height. “It’s not necessarily the vehicle in the yard, but people with the lack of drive to clean up their yards.”

It’s the mess and the danger of kids playing there and cutting themselves, he said.

Dressen also pointed out that it was mostly rental properties that were the problem, and that the property owner should ultimately be responsible for the upkeep of the property, just like with water bills.

“It should be in their rental/lease agreement, though, that if a cop shows up at your property twice, you’re out,” he said.

“The council should get all the landlords together and give them copies of the code,” Lincoln County Board Chair Mic VanDeVere said, “that way they can’t say, ‘That’s not what he said to me.'”

Building on that, Petersen suggested the city have rules to go with renter licenses.

“If you go that route, you’ll have to give them time to make adjustments,” Petersen said. “I don’t want to beat up landlords, some put a lot into our community.”

“Yes, there are landlords that take good care of their property, but some properties should be condemned,” Dressen said.

Spindler wanted to know if the city could also address business property equally as well. The answer was yes, there should be no favoritism.

“Identifying these properties will make it easier to deal with them in the future,” Petersen said.

“We all have to work together to take care of these issues,” Wolfington said. “We take action when we hear about concerns. Can we step up our efforts? Absolutely.”

“If everybody would do just that, we’ll get this cleaned up,” Dressen said. “That’s all I’m asking, and I’ll continue to be a thorn.”

Dressen also asked what Luverne did to keep its community looking great.

“They have a high respect for their community,” Peter said.

Some attendees scoffed, saying, “We do, too!”

Another answer was that many communities hire a building inspector whose full-time job was to inspect properties for code violations.

That may be something the Tyler City Council will consider at its next regular meeting.

During citizens’ comments, Paul Schramm, the local recycler, complained about being “bullied” about his property and business trailers full of recycling items.

“I teach kids to recycle and I make money for the school,” he said. “I even park my trailers at the fairgrounds, but I get bombed for that, too.”

Schramm pointed out other businesses with eyesores, like blank business signs or the weather-beaten community billboard.

All these things needed to be addressed, the council members admitted, and they would take it all under consideration at their next meeting.