Council waives third reading, passes Nuisance Ordinance amendment

Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 12:14 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 12:15 p.m. CDT

After months of discussion, amendments to Newton’s Nuisance Code will take effect a bit sooner than originally scheduled after the Newton City Council voted to waive the customary third reading of the amendments during Monday evening’s regular meeting.

After some discussion as to the unintended consequences the amendments have brought about — namely pitting “neighbor against neighbor” on issues of yard and home upkeep, according to councilor Dennis D.J. Julius, it was proposed and passed that the third consideration of the amendments, scheduled for the June 3 regular meeting, be waived.

“I’ve had a couple of comments from the public ... about whether we’re trying to pit neighbor against neighbor and create problems for neighbors,” Julius said. “If you have neighbors who act responsibly, it allows the city to take care of the problems quicker and make the neighborhood look somewhat presentable.”

City Administrator Bob Knabel, back from temporary leave, clarified Julius’ comments.

“The idea of pitting neighbor against neighbor is a real concern, but there is a way for people to report these issues anonymously,” he said. “It is important to remember as we do this that one of the purposes is to maintain and strengthen the property values in our community.” Knabel added that residents may report nuisance code violations either over the phone or online. The ordinance was further passed by unanimous vote.

Additionally, Greater Newton Chamber of Commerce executive director Darrell Sarmento presented the Council with the Chamber’s plan of action toward earning Main Street Iowa designation for the city of Newton. While applications in recent years didn’t quite make the cut for the program, funded through the Iowa Economic Development Authority, Sarmento and Director of Planning and Zoning Erin Chambers explained why the city’s upcoming application, due on Jan. 1, 2014, has a better chance of making the cut.

“Newton has explored this option before in the past and decided it was not ready for such a program,” Sarmento said. “On behalf of the Chamber Board, we feel the time is right and we are ready to champion the cause.”

Sarmento further explained that, as Newton’s downtown district recently applied for National Register of Historic Places status, much of the language required for the Main Street application has already been drafted by Chambers. Additionally, the fact that the city is currently in the midst of the historic preservation application bodes well for Newton’s future as a Main Street Iowa community.

Chambers commented that the objective of the program is “downtown revitalization with a historic preservation focus,” and added that the city will begin the formal application project in the fall.

The benefits of the Main Street Iowa program have become evident in recent months just a short drive down Interstate 80 as the city of Colfax has begun wrapping up its downtown revitalization project. The initiative, funded mainly through Main Street Iowa grants, allowed the city to spruce up its formerly crumbling and dilapidated downtown storefronts — in turn, building community pride.

In a Jan. 16 Daily News article, Colfax Main Street Program Director Julia Kern explained that, while still in the early stages, many of the facade improvements throughout downtown Colfax had garnered a positive response and that “the excitement will help fill vacancies, bring in more business and raise awareness about what we have going on in Colfax.”

In addition, Administrative Superintendent of Parks and Recreation Nathan Unsworth presented a comprehensive assessment of the state and proposed changes to each of Newton’s 15 parks. Following the park board’s survey conducted in January, which questioned a total of 217 people, Unsworth explained that the parks board now has a better idea of what residents want from their parks system and what direction to move toward in terms of updates and renovations to the existing facilities.

At Maytag Park and Agnes Patterson Memorial Park — the two most visited parks in Newton, per the survey — respondents made it clear that they would prefer to see additional bathroom facilities, improvements to playground equipment, shelter space and more parking.

In some of the smaller parks, certain issues stuck out — the need for tennis court renovations at Aurora Heights Park, for instance, or the boon of increased accessibility for Newton Village and Park Centre residents at Sunset Park.

While Unsworth’s comprehensive presentation touched upon many areas of concern, he explained that project priorities would be discussed and finalized at the park board’s June meeting.

In other business, the council:

• backed two proclamations, signed by Mayor Michael Hansen, designating this week as both Emergency Medical Services Week as well as Public Works Week.

• approved cigarette and liquor permits for a total of seven Newton gas stations and stores.

• adjusted the fee schedule for the Newton Fire Department ambulance service to align with insurance and Medicare reimbursements.

• approved the list of eligible candidates for a police officer position.

• approved quotes for prohibited sanitary sewer discharge removal work at three homes.

• authorized financial assistance payments for prohibited sanitary sewer discharge removal work at two additional homes.

Staff writer Nicole Wiegand may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 422, or at nwiegand@newtondailynews.com.

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