City Council Approves Derelict Property Ordinance, Short-Term Rental Ordinance, and Seeks to have Third Party Perform Building Inspections

City Council, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Blue Ridge City Council voted to approve the Derelict Property Ordinance, Short-Term Rental Ordinance and made it known that they seek to have a third party perform city building inspections during their meeting in Tuesday, July 9, 2019.

The Derelict Property Ordinance, or ordinance BR2019-08, has been the topic of much debate since its first reading on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.

The 36 page ordinance, now 35 pages, focuses on what the city considers to be “derelict and blighted property within the City”, and is intended as a means to allow the city to better deal with such properties.

Many believe that the ordinance may have unintended consequences however.

The only changes made to the original document were that the mayor is to designate the enforcement officer, the removal of the tax break for redeveloping, and the time to respond was changed from 14 to 15 days.

Council Member Nathan Fitts made the motion to approve the ordinance, seconded by Council Member Robbie Cornelius. Council Member Kenneth Gaddis and Council Member Harold Herndon voted in opposition. With Council Member Rhonda Haight absent, Mayor Donna Whitener broke the tie voting in favor of the ordinance.

The Short-Term Rental Ordinance, or Ordinance BR2019-07 was also approved by the council.

This ordinance deals with a residential dwelling unit that is provided for lodging for a period of time not to exceed 30 consecutive days and the sub-divisions they’re allowed in.

There is now a process for a special land-use permit that allows people to avoid re-zoning a property in the middle of a residential area and instead notify their neighbors and appear before the City Council to request special permission for the short-term rental.

Neighbors may then voice their opinion and the council may allow the rental for a period of 12 months, at which time the council may revoke the permissions granted.

Council Member Robbie Cornelius made the motion to approve the ordinance, seconded by Council Member Harold Herndon. Council Member Kenneth Gaddis and Council Member Nathan Fitts voted in opposition. With Council Member Rhonda Haight absent, Mayor Donna Whitener broke the tie voting in favor of the ordinance.

Richard Edinge, Vice President of CPL

The City Council also made it known that they are currently seeking to have a third party perform city building inspections, similar to how they currently have a third party perform city electrical inspections.

Because of House Bill 493, local government has a fixed amount of time to review a permit application for completeness. If the local government fails at this, then the developer may hire an architect or engineer to do these inspections through their own finances. This information is then shared with the local government, which then has only a few days to determine if the review was accurate.

Because of this, the City Council heard from Richard Edinge, Vice President of Clark Patterson Lee (CPL) to help determine whether or not they wish to use the CPL firm for inspections moving forward.

No decision has been made on this matter as of yet, however, so be sure to stay tuned for future updates on the matter!

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City Council Backs Derelict Property Ordinance

City Council, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Blue Ridge City Council backed their newly proposed Derelict Property Ordinance during their meeting on Tuesday, June 11, 2019, citing improvements to current ordinance.

One of the structures targeted by the Derelict Property Ordinance. Click to enlarge.

As one would expect, the ordinance was drafted in response to currently standing structures that are in need of repair. There were several specific locations the city has been struggling with, some definitely worse than others.

The ordinance was drafted by attorney James A. Balli in response to Jeff Stewart (Zoning, Land Development, Project Manager of Blue Ridge, Ga.) and the City Council’s requests for a solution to the properties in question.

Suzie Soave, a sales associate at local real estate company, had initially asked Stewart what could be done in response to comments such as “why some of these structures are allowed to be eyesores and possibly dangerous to the neighborhood and why ordinances are not being enforced.”

There is already a similar ordinance in place, though City Clerk Kelsey Ledford states that the current ordinance is “outdated, completely open to interpretation which encourages selective enforcement and would allow the mayor and council to without notice order an abatement of a nuisance property. If notice was provided the only hearing is in front of the mayor and council, no court or no warrant. If a citizen disobeyed the council order, they are subject to arrest.”

Another one of the structures targeted by the Derelict Property Ordinance. Click to enlarge.

She continues that this proposed ordinance “removes far-reaching power from the mayor and council in this area of law”, and “removes the ability for someone to be arrested for non-compliance, and adds procedural safeguards require by the state to protect citizens.”

Council member Rhonda Haight says that this ordinance will allow Police Chief Johnny Scearce to better do his job, with Mayor Donna Whitener stating that the new ordinance would be much more straightforward in regards to what Scearce’s responsibilities would be regarding enforcement of the ordinance.

Only one citizen signed up to speak against the ordinance; Michael Eaton, former Blue Ridge Zoning Board of Appeals, stating that he believes this ordinance will have unintended consequences, and thinks that Mayor Whitener may use it in her favor.

Many in attendance seemed to have concerns despite the council’s efforts to distinguish fact from fiction regarding the new ordinance, however.

Another view of the first building. Clearly not in as bad of shape as the second. It is located near the other building. Click to enlarge.

Only one council member, Kenneth Gaddis, spoke out stating that he believes that the council is rushing the ordinance, citing that tax payer money is on the line for something that he believes the council has had little discussion about, especially considering that the first reading was of a draft that still needed modification.

The ordinance is set to be voted on and potentially passed during the councils July meeting (currently scheduled for Tuesday, July 9, 2019 at 6 pm), and those who wish to speak before the vote should contact City Clerk Kelsey Ledford to sign up.

(Apologies for the quality of the second half of the video. A different recording device had to be used, but this shouldn’t be an issue in future recordings).

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Can the City of Blue Ridge now seize your property? Here’s what a new ordinance has to say…

City Council, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Blue Ridge City Council held a first reading of their Derelict Property Ordinance, or ordinance BR2019-08 during their meeting on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.

This 36 page ordinance focuses on what the city considers to be “derelict and blighted property within the City”, and as many citizens are rightfully concerned, gives the city power to do anything from raising taxes on such properties to seizing the property entirely.

Properties that are potentially in violation of the new ordinance are all of those the city deems “[…]is unfit for human habitation or commercial, industrial, or business use or occupancy due to inadequate provisions for ventilation, light, air, sanitation, or open spaces; poses an imminent harm to life or other property due to fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, storm or other natural catastrophe; is vacant and used in the commission of drug crimes; is occupied and used repeatedly for the commission of illegal activities, including facilitating organized crime or criminal enterprises after written notice to the owner of such activities conducted therein;  is abandoned; or otherwise constitutes an endangerment to the public health or safety as a result of unsanitary or unsafe conditions[…]” (lines 124 – 133).

The ordinance doesn’t state who exactly would be in charge of inspecting such properties, but that they are empowered to “Investigate and inspect the condition of dwellings, buildings, structures, and private property within the City to determine those structures and property uses in violation of this article. Entries onto private property shall be made in a manner so as to cause the least possible inconvenience; provided, however, the enforcement official shall not enter into any occupied dwelling or structure without first having obtained the consent of the owner or a person in possession. In those cases where consent to entry is denied after reasonable request, the enforcement official may apply to the municipal court for an administrative search warrant upon showing probable cause that a violation exists.” (lines 149 – 159).

If the property is found to be in violation of the new ordinance, the city ultimately will make the decision as to whether or not the property is worth having cleaned up and repaired or demolished completely.

“If the repair, alteration, or improvement of the said dwelling, building, or structure can be made at a reasonable cost in relation to the present value of the dwelling, building, or structure, requiring the owner, within the time specified in the order, to repair, alter, or improve such dwelling, building, or structure so as to bring it into full compliance with the applicable codes relevant to the cited violation; and, if applicable, to secure by closing the structure so that it cannot be used in connection with the commission of drug crimes; or If the repair, alteration, or improvement of the said dwelling, building, or structure in order to bring it into full compliance with applicable codes relevant to the cited violations cannot be made at a reasonable cost in relation to the present value of the dwelling, building, or structure, requiring the owner, within the time specified in the order, to demolish and remove such dwelling, building, or structure and all debris from the property. (lines 232 – 246).

The ordinance also states that those who are in possession of “[…]a common, ill-governed and disorderly house, to the encouragement of gaming, drinking, illicit drug activity, or other misbehavior, to the common disturbance of the neighborhood or orderly citizens, shall be guilty of an offense against the City[…]”.  (lines 405-408).

The enforcement penalties? Fines to having public water services removed from certain properties.

“Any person who willfully refuses to comply with the provisions of this article shall be cited to appear before the municipal court and, upon conviction, shall be fined not less than $500.00; each day of continued violation, after citation, shall constitute a separate offense. In addition to the foregoing fines, upon conviction, the director shall discontinue the public water supply service at any premises upon which there is found to be a cross-connection, auxiliary intake, by-pass, or inter435 connection, and service shall not be restored until such cross-connection, auxiliary, by-pass, or inter-connection has been discontinued. ” (lines 429 – 436).

If the property is found to be in violation of the new ordinance, it may also be subject to increased taxes.

“There is hereby levied on all real property within the City which has been officially identified as maintained in a blighted condition an increased ad valorem tax by applying a factor of seven (7.0) to the millage rate applied to the property, so that such property shall be taxed at a higher millage rate generally applied in the municipality, or otherwise provided by general law; provided, however, real property on which there is situated a dwelling house which is being occupied as the primary residence of one or more persons shall not be subject to official identification as maintained in a blighted condition and shall not be subject to increased taxation.” (lines 521 – 529).

There will be a meeting in the near future that will allow a public hearing regarding the ordinance prior to the official vote by the City Council.

We have attempted to reach out to the Blue Ridge City Council for further clarification on this proposed ordinance, but have not yet received any communication from them regarding it.

An open records request has been delivered to the council, so we will keep you updated on further developments!
 
 
 
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