Council holds off on code-enforcement changes

Posted 4/22/09

In an effort to ensure an optimum opportunity for public comment, the Centennial City Council has instructed city staff to seek feedback on several …

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Council holds off on code-enforcement changes


In an effort to ensure an optimum opportunity for public comment, the Centennial City Council has instructed city staff to seek feedback on several proposed changes to the city’s zoning code and code-enforcement policies.

At the April 20 council meeting, code-enforcement manager Susie Ellis recommended quick action on six priority issues, but the council reached consensus that some of the proposals would require further public comment before the council should take action.

For the most part, code enforcement covers such generally aesthetic issues as unkempt weeds, clutter kept in clear view and right-of-way obstructions, but public safety concerns often drive code-enforcement policies too.

Of particular concern at this week’s council meeting was a proposal to allow code-enforcement officers to view a potential violation on a resident’s private property by accepting an invitation to view it from a neighbor’s yard. Under current ordinance, violations must be seen from a public right-of-way.

“This would not allow us to go on to a second-story deck or somebody’s home and look through specific windows,” Ellis clarified for council. “It would still have to be under general plain view of someone’s backyard.”

Many on council were clearly uncomfortable with the idea of city staff peering into residents’ backyards for aesthetic reasons not related to public safety.

“It does get down to property values versus property rights for me,” District 3 Councilmember Patrick Anderson said. “We’re getting to the point where we want the government to solve our problems, rather than knocking on the door of our neighbors.”

District 4’s Todd Miller said he would have a hard time supporting prosecution of code violations that are not visible from a public area, except in limited situations.

“We on council have not really crossed that line … except if it’s imminent danger or those kinds of issues,” he said.

Ron Weidmann, the other councilmember representing the eastern, partly rural District 4, questioned whether the city should be entering what he perceived as the micro-purview of homeowners associations.

“The people on the east side who don’t have homeowners associations that do most of these things that you’re talking about may want to live there because they don’t have homeowners associations,” he told Ellis.

Still, other councilmembers, including District 3’s Rebecca McClellan, had no problem with stepping up code enforcement by allowing officers to view violations from a neighbor’s yard.

“I am a little bit uncomfortable telling someone who’s losing the quiet enjoyment of their real estate that we can’t do anything at all for them when it’s so observable from their own backyard,” she said.

District 1 Councilmember Betty Ann Hamilton [formerly Habig] agreed, emphasizing that the public would still have opportunities to weigh in on the proposed changes.

“I think you’ve taken a measured approach and one that allows this council time to really chew on each piece and allows input and commentary from citizens. I don’t see this as intrusive,” she told Ellis.

In the end, though, the council reached consensus that still more public comment should be solicited on the entire package of proposed changes before the city initiates even preliminary action on the code-enforcement changes.

Ellis was instructed to present her proposed revisions at regular district meetings conducted by councilmembers and to such community organizations as the Centennial Council of Neighborhoods.

Other proposed revisions include the following:

Vehicles could not be parked on lawns and would have to be parked on such impervious surfaces as concrete, asphalt or gravel.

“Staff does receive complaints about vehicles and trailers parked on the lawn and concerned citizens are often surprised to learn that the city does not prohibit this type of activity,” Ellis said.

The definition of “stockpiling” would be expanded to include not just junk and debris, but also large, visible numbers of such items as bicycles and lawn mowers in a “quantity not customarily associated with residential properties.”

“When we approach the person in violation, they inform us that all the [eight] lawn mowers work,” Ellis said. “They use them all, one one week, one another week. But it really does not match the residential character of the neighborhood.”

Stockpiling of firewood would be limited to one cord in more densely populated neighborhoods with smaller lots. Property owners would be required to place the wood in an area screened from public view.

Property owners would be required to remove and prevent obstructions to bordering rights-of-way, including vegetation that interferes with streets and sidewalks.

“This, of course, is a big safety concern throughout the community as it forces pedestrians to walk out into the street and motorists to swerve into oncoming lanes,” Ellis said.


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