Over the last month, 11 local property owners have been summoned to a public hearing with the Wellington City Council.
During the last two Wellington City Council meeting, 11 public hearings have been scheduled for local property owners who, the City says, own a property that is not safe and is a danger to the public.
The purpose of those meeting is for the City Council to meet with the owners, their agents and any other lien-holders of record, along with any occupants of the buildings to "show cause why such buildings should not be condemned and ordered demolished."
At the Jan. 15 council meeting, hearings were set for 1203 S. A, 711 W 3rd St., 519 S. Blaine, and 2118 E. Harvey. At the Feb. 5 meeting, hearings were called for owners of 715 W 3rd St., 1101 E. 4th St., 213 E 15th St., Tract on South A, 806 South Cherry St., 224 S. F St., 1103 E Lincoln Ave.
Officials at the City of Wellington said the public hearings are a result of the council's new approach.
"The governing body directed staff to start seeking out properties that are aesthetically challenged in the community," said City Manager, Gus Collins. "What we're looking for is dangerous or unsafe situations." In the past, someone would have to call the City about a specific property and then an inspection would take place. Now the City is taking action.
"They [the governing body] are taking a proactive approach to going through the city," Collins said. "We're driving alley's, driving the community, literally." The City sends two staff members out on patrol to look for unsafe property.
"One of them looks for trash, weeds, and abandon vehicles on right-of-way," explains Wellington Economic Development Director, Cody Sims. "Another one focuses primarily on dangerous structures." The patrols go out when their schedules allow, and canvas the entire town.
"When they're doing they're patrols, it's not that we're going out and condemning properties," Sims said. "We're identifying properties that do not meet the minimum standards of the International Property Maintenance Code." The IPMC was developed by the International Code Council, it is a model building code that has been adopted in towns across the United States.
"We are not out there to tear down every building we come across," Sims said. "We want to make sure we have a safe community, an appealing community according to the minimum standards of the IPMC." Sims goes on to explain the City's process.
"Staff patrols the community, finds a dangerous structure, they contact the property owner via letter; stating, 'we patrolled the area, this is what we found, this is where you're not compliant, please contact the City within 10 days to establish an abatement agreement,'" Sims said.
Before the new proactive approach, the City would address an average of four to five dangerous properties per year, Collins said. City officials reiterated that they do all they can to communicate and work with the property owners.
"Is it fair to say the only available abatement is demolition? Absolutely," Sims said. "But that's not the first thing we're going for, we want to work with the community to help abate the problems without demolitions if at all possible." The City's goal is to give the property owners time to rehabilitate the property.
"We're working with the property owner, we want to do everything we can to bring it back the way it was, trying to see if that's a possibility," Collins said, but added that communicating with the owners is a challenge at times. "In a lot of situations, the property owner is absent from the community." The City tries to take an open minded approach into each situation. Sims said when the communication is there, things go smoothly.
"The public has been great about this, 'yes I acknowledge I am out of compliance, I'll have the problem addressed in the 10 days,'" he said. "All we're looking for is the folks to contact us, and work with us." The bottom line is, if there is an unsafe structure, the potential is there for it to have a negative affect on the community. If a building has to be demolished, an empty lot has a lot more positive potential for the neighborhood and community.
"The code is written and applicable to the entire community," Sims said. "That's the approach we're taking…I appreciate the community's willingness to cooperate, understanding that it does affect everybody."