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W’bago considers minimum standards

By Staff | Nov 27, 2011

Austin Bleess

Winnebago City Council members are weighing the costs and benefits of enacting a minimum standards ordinance for buildings and homes in dilapidated condition throughout the city.

Supporters of the new legislation say the ordinance would give Winnebago a streamlined process for dealing with property that is unfinished, unattractive or dilapidated – resulting in improved safety, higher property values and improved city image.

“It is a way to make our town look decent,” City Administrator Austin Bleess says. “We want to put on our best face for those traveling through town.”

Disadvantages would be time spent by staff enforcing the ordinance and the potential cost of implementing improvements.

Currently, the ordinance reads that owners will be given an “X number” of days to take care of a problem. If an owner does not fix it, the city will take care of the work and the cost will be billed to the resident or assessed to their property taxes.

At this month’s council meeting, members sent back the ordinance to the planning commission to tone down language in the legislation.

“I want our town to look nice, but this is not the way to go about it,” says Councilman Chris Ziegler. “It’s too invasive.”

Councilman Rick Johnson concurs.

“Looking at the exterior of a building is one thing, but the interior is another,” Johnson says. “On the otherhand, I also know dilapidated homes and buildings are a problem.”

In the ordinance sent to the council to review, members specifically took issue with provisions requiring adequate storage space for cooking utensils, eliminating parking in the front yard and occupant restrictions.

“I expect the planning commission to respect the council’s consideration and not interfere with people’s personal lives,” Bleess says. “They will focus on the exterior appearance of houses like run down decks and broken windows.”

The Planning Commission will next meet on Nov. 30 to make the changes recommended by the council.

Bleess says he doesn’t anticipate the ordinance being brought to the council for action until the February meeting.

This is not the first time Winnebago has considered a minimum standards ordinance. The planning commission originally reviewed the ordinance in 2005.

“Six years ago, the planning commission rejected it with little discussion,” Bleess says. “The cost of enforcing the ordinance was a concern.”

Currently, St. James and Mapleton have similar ordinances on the books and Bleess plans on asking those communities about costs they have incurred from instituting the program.

Before Winnebago adopts the ordinance, council members specifically want the language in the legislation to focus on structural and safety requirements.

Council members stressed they did not want to see the ordinance die, but stated more research needs to be done to factor in the amount of staff time and expenses obtained from enacting the project.

If the ordinance is passed, a survey of all the properties in town would be completed and then given a rating based on a nondiscretionary scale. Bleess would act as the code enforcement official for the project.

“If it’s part of my job, I will do it,” Bleess says. “At some point, you have to do something to make your community look better.”