Monday, March 05, 2012
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City to vote on changes to nuisance ordinance for abandoned buildings

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[March 05, 2012]  There may be some who believe the house pictured to the left is the very thing that has stirred the city to take action to beef up some of the city ordinances regarding abandoned homes.

HardwareHowever, John Lebegue, building and safety officer for the city of Lincoln, knows that is not the case.

The abandoned house at 1020 Broadway St. may have prompted the city and Lebegue to step up the timeline on making changes to city ordinances, but the process of accomplishing this was already in the works.

Almost since the first day he arrived in Lincoln, Lebegue has told the council that the city ordinances do not have the bite they need in order to influence property owners to take better care of their assets.

When Pat Moos of Lincoln came to the council in December, he complained about the house on Broadway and said it was an unsafe building. Lebegue did not disagree with him. In fact, he agreed completely but said that until the ordinances were changed, there was not a great deal that could be done, except for the city to pursue a court-ordered demolition of the property.

The problem with this is that it could in the end come back on the city to pay for the demolition -- something the city does not have the funds to do.

For Lebegue, with that alternative not an option, the next best thing to do is toughen up current ordinances, adding more detail on what constitutes an unsafe or nuisance property, then add fines that will hurt the noncompliant property owner financially.

On Feb. 14, Lebegue brought his ideas for change to the council. He offered them suggestions of setting time limits on boarded-up buildings, or forcing owners of abandoned buildings to register them with the city and pay a fee.

When asked what he preferred, he said he felt forcing owners to register their buildings would be very difficult to accomplish.

His choices were to redefine what an unsafe building is, beef up the nuisance ordinance and attach fees that would even increase if one person owned multiple abandoned buildings.

Last week, Lebegue came back to the council with a draft of the changes he would like to see made and a slide show of several homes in the city of Lincoln that could be affected by the new changes.

During the discussion on this, city attorney Bill Bates reminded the council these changes were not going to solve all the problems with abandoned properties in Lincoln.

The fines can be implemented, and they can build up to rather large amounts, but that isn't going to fix or tear down the building.

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It was also discussed that as fines build up, there is no guarantee the property owner will pay them.

Bates said, "If you think most of the people who own these properties have a lot of money sitting around to pay fines, you're kidding yourself."

With the fines unpaid, the city can place liens on the property, but as has been noted several times in the past, the city would fall toward the bottom of a long list in many cases. Therefore, they should not expect to gain much financially in the long run.

Lebegue also said if the city ultimately has to tear the buildings down, the cost involved could run between $6,000 and $10,000 per building.

Alderwoman Jonie Tibbs wondered if the buildings could be used as training sites for the local fire departments if the city would end up taking ownership.

Fire Chief Mark Miller addressed this, saying that in town it is harder to get this accomplished. To use a building in this manner, consideration has to be given to proximity to schools, churches and nursing homes, and there have to be inspections to determine if there is asbestos in the structure, among other things.

As the discussion drew to a close, Lebegue said what he was presenting was a draft. If the council wants to move forward, Bates will need to be given time to properly write the ordinances for council approval.

Alderwoman Marty Neitzel, who chairs the ordinance committee, asked that a motion be put on the agenda for this week to approve having Bates draft the changes to the ordinances.


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