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Council discusses Nuisance Code

Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 12:15 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 12:16 p.m. CDT

The Newton City Council’s Monday night meeting mainly focused on the proposed updates to the city’s Nuisance Code, but before the discussion took place, Newton Mayor Michael L. Hansen asked for a moment of silence for those who were affected by Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing.

Hansen began by offering some clarification on the changing of the council’s format.

“This format was not a result of legal services provided to the city of Newton,” Hansen said. “It has given us a opportunity, since we do have a contract with a legal service, to provide to this community, to be wise in our allocation of funds that we spend for those services by not having an attorney sitting here when they are not needed. From time to time, Mr. Hamilton, who served our community well as city attorney, would from time to time not be needed in the meeting, but because it was his part of his job duties, he was here, and you saw him at every council meeting.”

Director of Planning and Zoning Erin Chambers then addressed the board about the proposed ordinance change for nearly an hour.

“Tonight, I wanted to lead you through a discussion concerning some proposed changes to our nuisance ordinance as well as some other things in regard to our enforcement of nuisances,” she said. “It is our hope as city staff that tonight you can confirm that the proposed changes are on target, and if they are not, offer some guidance for further fine tuning.”

Councilman Jeff Price asked Chambers for clarification on the proposed ruling’s specifications about parking vehicle in yards.

“This is specific to the front yard, and for the public, the current law is that all vehicles in the front of the house must be on a hard surface,” Chambers said. “So you can’t park on the grass on the front yard. The proposed change is going to provide some more detail on that.”

She explained a hard surface must completely support the vehicle and extend to at least one foot beyond the full perimeter. For gravel roads, it must be at least three inches thick and free of weeds.

Councilwomen Noreen Otto asked Chambers to provide some clarification on how enforcement would be pursued, as police need to catch people in the act to issue a citation.

“In general, the time frame for enforcement, some of them are called out for in the nuisance code, and others are by administrative policy, and we are looking to clear that up,” Chambers said. “The police department handles the bulk of the parking restrictions.”

Chamber asked Newton Police Chief Jeff Hoebelheinrich to provide some input on how the current enforcement is regulated.

“When they are sitting there, we can find it, and we usually give them seven to 14 days,” Hoebelheinrich said. “Now with those that are moving, someone will call it in and say, ‘He is there right now,’ and it (the vehicle) is gone (when police arrive). So we usually call it an incompliance type of deal. I did make up some parking notices so the officers at night can go around and put them on the windshield and say, ‘Hey, please understand that this is illegal.’ We are not writing any citations on that, (and) that works sometimes, but some really don’t care. But we can go to something (such as letting) our officers at night take a picture if they see it, and someone else can give them the warning. Once you give a warning, they (offenders) don’t need to be given a second.”

Hansen asked Chambers if the reason for strengthening the ordinance was to address the problem of “people who are playing the game” of avoiding fines and not to bring in extra money for the city. Chambers answered yes to both.

“I think that all of these were deeply analyzed by our staff team, which come from a variety of different departments, and these are the things that were identified that could clear up some of those gray areas and tighten things down for those cases for people,” Chambers said.

Hansen told Chambers he received a phone call asking for some clarification about the proposed trailer loading ruling. She explained that, if approved, the ruling would allow a grace period of one day prior to and one day after the trailer was needed.

The council also asked for some clarification on the proposed changes regarding  the storage of watercraft and trailers ruling. Chambers explained if a watercraft or trailer is in the public’s “right-of-way,” anywhere in the city limits after 72 hours, within a seven-day period, the owner is liable for it.

Hansen expressed some concern for businesses who use trailers, but Chambers explained there will be exceptions to the rules in certain circumstances.

Hansen also was concerned with the proposed ruling holding owners who blow grass clippings in the street liable without having to catch them in the act. He noted that wind may play a factor in mis-evaluation, and should be taken into consideration.

The ruling was not put to a vote.

In the end, the council members expressed a willingness to enforce the proposed nuisance laws rather than letting them slide.

The council also discussed the possibility of allowing golf carts to be street legal in the city. Although several councilors were against the idea, the council agreed to investigate the matter further. 

Staff writer Matthew Shepard may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at mshepard@newtondailynews.com.

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