Wednesday, February 08, 2012
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Citizen frustrated over property maintenance issues

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[February 08, 2012]  Pat Moos, of the 1000 block of Broadway Street, attended the voting meeting of the Lincoln City Council on Monday evening. He came to express his extreme frustration with what he saw as a lack of concern about an abandoned property on his block.

HardwareMoos had previously visited the council in early December to speak about an empty house at 1020 Broadway, next door to his home. He said the building was literally falling in. His observations included seeing holes in the roof, floors that had rotted through and feral animals coming and going from the property.

He asked the council to do something that would force the property owner, Mike Drake, to repair or demolish the building.

At the December meeting, Moos was told that building and safety officer John Lebegue was aware of the property and the concerns Moos was addressing, but in reality, Lebegue is dealing with several similar properties in the city and has little funding to do anything about them.

However, it was agreed that Lebegue would give the Broadway address his full attention and try to get the property owner to make some repairs.

Last week, Lebegue handed out a memo to the council, outlining what he'd seen at the building and the orders he'd given to Drake on repairs. He told the council then that the outcome was not going to be what Moos had hoped for, and they should expect him to be back to air his complaints once again.

Monday evening Moos did speak to the council again, saying he was very frustrated with what he'd seen. According to Moos, the property owner brought in a few sheets of plywood for the floor, a bundle of shingles for the roof, did very little work, but now the property is in such a condition as the city can no longer push for more.

Moos said he felt that Lebegue had lied to the council about the condition of the building, and he challenged aldermen to go to the property and see it for themselves.

He said the building was not safe, because the floors were rotted out, but Lebegue said he'd seen the floors, and with the exception of the porch that Drake did repair, the floors were not rotted out.

Lebegue also said he understood Moos' frustration. He elaborated, saying there is no electricity to the home, no plumbing and no running water. He concluded it is uninhabitable.

However, Lebegue also said he'd observed the ceilings, and they were not collapsing. He elaborated by saying, had they been, that would have been a clear indication of water coming in through the roof.

Moos argued that he knew there were holes in the roof and that he'd personally witnessed cats coming and going through them.

At one point Alderwoman Marty Neitzel told Moos she personally had visited his home five times, wanting to speak with him and have him show her what he was seeing.

Moos countered that he had to work, and then he also criticized Neitzel for addressing the matter with his teenage son.

Neitzel explained she had asked the son when his father would be home. The son had answered that his father would be there in 15 minutes. Neitzel waited and waited but finally gave up.

Moos then told her she could have gone and looked at the abandoned property without him, but Neitzel said she had intended to look at it with him and get his input on the condition of the building.

As the discussions continued, Moos referred to a copy of the city codes, saying the building was violating city code in that it was unsafe.

However, Lebegue said that according to the codes, Drake was in compliance.

Lebegue went on to explain that all the problems in the house are real, and they do need to be addressed, but as the city codes are written, he has done about all he can do. The only option left is to go for demolition, but the city does not have the money to pay for that.

He also said he is working hard to rewrite many of the city codes, and in doing so he will have greater power to force owners of abandoned properties to take care of them.

In complete frustration Moos told the council, "It's like you're almost on their side, and I'm breaking the law."

Mayor Keith Snyder tried to explain to Moos that the city had little else they could do right now. He said, "We've told you that as the codes are written, he is in compliance, but we're changing that."

However, Moos countered that the code is written and the city is not enforcing it.

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In the end, it was city attorney Bill Bates who finally got the point across as to what the real problem is.

According to Bates, yes, there are city and building codes in place, but there are no ordinances that address this. It is the ordinance that has to be used in enforcing the codes, and right now the city has two options, the nuisance ordinance or a demolition ordinance.

Bates said the nuisance ordinance does not produce the results the city needs, and the demolition ordinance could put the city in a position of having to pay for the destruction of a building, something they do not have the money to do.

In the work Lebegue is now doing, the city ordinances are being written to give Bates more legal options for enforcing the codes.

Alderman Tom O'Donohue, who first spoke with Moos and was the one who asked him to bring his concerns to the city council, questioned the timeline of getting these new ordinances in place.

Lebegue said he is in the process of rewriting city codes and ordinances at the same time. He said he would have new ordinances ready by the end of the month. The new city codes will take longer.

O'Donohue confirmed it was the ordinance that was needed in order to force Drake to do more with the property, and Lebegue said yes, it was.

O'Donohue said he would also disagree with a comment Moos had made earlier. He did believe that Lebegue had been to the property and inspected it.

Moos then said he wanted Lebegue to come back on Tuesday, that he would make a point of being there also, and he wanted the two of them to look at the property together. Lebegue said he would be happy to do that.

As the discussions wound down, one point Snyder tried to make to Moos was that the city has not been idle in this matter.

He also commented, "This is a problem in every city -- we're not alone -- and John fights this weekly. We're trying to attack it the best way we can."

Bates also tried to reassure Moos, "Believe it or not, you are getting somewhere. There has been a lot done since you were here."

Moos' final statements to the council were that what they had done thus far had worked. Lebegue had ordered repairs and they did get done; he just didn't go far enough in what he ordered.

It was once again explained that Lebegue had gone as far as he could.

Alderman David Wilmert also sympathized with Moos' problem and said he understood -- the owner had done just what he had to in order to slip by.

In regard to a timeline for the new ordinances, Alderwoman Melody Anderson asked if Lebegue would have something to vote on by the end of the month. Lebegue indicated he could have something ready to vote on by the first voting session in March.

In the process, the ordinance has to be drafted by Lebegue and written in a legal format by Bates.

Later in the evening, Lebegue was asked to send an email to all the aldermen when he finds out what time he is to meet Moos, so that any alderman who wishes to may also go on the inspection.


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