by Logan Gruber
A public hearing was held during the May 26 Sauk Rapid City Council meeting on the issue of a new ordinance to help enforce residential property maintenance.
“We need to start getting Sauk Rapids looking like Sauk Rapids should look,” Mayor Brad Gunderson said.
Todd Schultz, the city’s community-development director, started off the hearing.
“A number of properties are in a period of decline,” Schultz said, “. . . so the city has been working on a new code.”
Schultz said the new code deals with two things: the general condition of buildings, including paint, siding, shingles and brick/mortar; and, what can be parked on a lot, for example, snowmobiles, cars, ATVs and boats, where they can be parked and in what condition.
“We will discover issues with this code over time that will require amendments,” Schultz wrote in his request to the council, “but that is a normal part of the process for this type of code.”
“What kind of time period do we give people [to comply with code] for things like cutting grass?” councilperson Nick Sauer wanted to know, in relation to citizen complaints the city has received.
“We usually give people a good week, but we’ll work with them,” Sauk Rapids Police Chief Perry Beise said. “We’d rather not write a ticket . . . we’d rather just have compliance.”
Schultz said most issues covered in the new ordinance will be more involved than mowing grass, so the time period for compliance will probably be around 30 days.
During the public hearing, many people wished to address the council on this matter.
“After this ordinance, what’s the next ordinance?” Mike Aurelius wanted to know. “Are you going to start telling us what color to paint our houses? . . . As you write this, consider the people who live in the houses.”
Aurelius implied an ordinance like this might turn neighbor on neighbor, one reporting the other for violations rather than talking to each other about issues.
Linda Massman said she was not concerned about the painting portion of the ordinance but rather about the broken-down boats and other vehicles in yards. She said they should be cleaned up so the town looks respectable.
“The chief doesn’t have time to go around and [check for compliance]; he probably doesn’t have time to get a cup of coffee now,” said Cy Stallmont.
Stallmont said the council should “put teeth” in the part of the ordinance dealing with brush piles and abandoned cars and worry about the paint on the houses later.
“This problem kind of spreads . . . and I’m very concerned about it,” Brenda Graves said.
She bought her home in 2004 and said at the time it was a very nice neighborhood. Now, she says, it’s slowly deteriorating, with cars parked on the lawn and trash everywhere.
“I applaud the city for trying to keep the city pleasant,” Graves continued. “I’m in favor of the ordinance as long as you guys don’t try to stop me from hanging my clothes on the line.”
John Abraham said a neighbor of his had bought a lot, built a foundation and placed a house on it but hadn’t done anything since for an entire year. He wondered whether the ordinance would have any ability to combat a problem like this.
Schultz said the ordinance would call for a timely completion of building projects.
The issue of collector cars came up when Bob Mead stepped up to the podium. Mead has a collection of five cars, which only have primer on them – no paint, as they are typically parked outside and he doesn’t want the paint to bake off. He wonders if his cars would be considered junk in the ordinance.
As long as the cars are currently licensed and roadworthy, Schultz said there wouldn’t be a problem with the cars. They would need to be parked in either a driveway or in the backyard of the property, he added. Schultz said he would be willing to meet with Mead at his property to help clear up the issue.
Kathryn Stonehouse brought up a car issue as well, but she was worried about a broken-down car, and how long a person would have to fix or sell the vehicle before they might be cited.
According to the ordinance, a 90-day permit can be received from the chief of police to give the owner time to sell or repair the car.
After the public hearing closed, the council members had another chance to discuss the ordinance.
“I’ve had numerous calls,” council member Kurt Hunstiger said, “not just from the north end, not just from the south end. It’s all over.”
Hunstiger said he would like to see the Housing and Redevelopment Authority be more aggressive in finding grants and other ways to help residents maintain their properties.
Council member Steve Heinen added that most of the language in the ordinance has been there for a long time, and the committee just tweaked or added language onto it.
Schultz said the original language is at least 13- to 14-years-old, but some of it hasn’t been enforced very well.
The fee for non-compliance – after a warning letter has been issued from the city – is currently set at $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense and $300 for the third offense. Council member Heinen and Mayor Gunderson said they felt the fee for the second and third offense could be raised higher. After the third offense, the perpetrator would be taken to court. Chief Beise said only twice in seven years has the city taken someone to court over the current ordinance.
The city council voted 5-0 to pass the ordinance as is and then make amendments as needed in the future.
Regular city council meetings are held at 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of the month in the council chambers at the Government Center, 250 Summit Ave. N. These meetings are open to the public, and a public hearing for any topic a citizen might want to speak about before the council is held near the beginning of every meeting. The meetings are also broadcast live on the city’s cable access channel, Charter channel 181. Agendas and meeting minutes may be viewed at the Government Center, or online at ci.sauk-rapids.mn.us.