A property in Minnetrista that has generated numerous verbal complaints is at the root of renewed talks about updating the city’s nuisance ordinance.
Minnetrista last looked at revising its nuisance ordinance early in 2018, but nothing came of that discussion. Then, as now, the ordinance came under scrutiny following verbal complaints about a property in the city’s northwest—the same property that council member Pam Mortenson said she has seen go from non-nuisance to nuisance over the past 5 years.
“This is not going to go away, it’s only going to get worse,” said Mortenson at the council’s March 1 work session.
The property in question had generated only one formal complaint, and that a couple of years ago, said Minnetrista Police Chief Paul Falls. But it also stands as an example for how hamstrung the city sometimes is in addressing nuisance code violations generally.
Neighboring cities have also revisited in recent years how they remedy nuisance code violations and much with the same intent: to put some teeth in their ordinances and give law enforcement something specific to point to in addressing complaints.
The city of Mound passed a slate of amendments to its code at the start of last year, redefining “junk” to close out loopholes and placing specific limitations on outdoor storage for vacant lots.
Spring Park also went through a lengthy discussion around cleaning up its properties and streets. The city ultimately approved two code amendments late in 2017 that more clearly defined different types of public nuisances and placed limitations on outdoor storage. Even more recently, in August and November last year, Spring Park held a couple of short, exploratory discussions on the topic, largely centered on making its ordinance more proactive than its current complaint-based system allows.
“Problem properties come in a number of varieties, a number of issues come up and the city has a number of tools that can be used in that regard in dealing with those issues,” said Ron Batty, city attorney for Minnetrista.
The city relies on its zoning code and nuisance law for addressing problem properties, and enforcement might take the form of abatement, the removal of abandoned or junk vehicles or a hazardous building declaration—as aided Mound this January with regard to a decades-vacant commercial building.
But, said Batty, “the commonality in all of these things is that enforcement is generally not inexpensive.”
Inadvertent violations might be easy but problem properties like that which initiated Minnetrista’s renewed discussion, can be costly. Estimates provided to the city during its review of the nuisance ordinance three years ago put the legal cost of abatement proceedings at anywhere from $2,500 to $35,000 depending on whether the case was contested—plus the additional cost of any physical clean-up.
Though Batty called Minnetrista’s current nuisance ordinance “inadequate” and recommended its rework, particularly in its “procedural safeguards,” he also cautioned that doing so is “not necessarily a magic bullet” and that some problems might remain unfixed.
“It’s not like we have to do more, but we can’t do more unless we amend the nuisance ordinance,” said Mayor Lisa Whalen, speaking with specific regard to that northwest property.
Minnetrista Police Chief Paul Falls agreed that the ordinance needs updating, and he gave much the same reason as was given in Mound one year earlier by that city’s field officer: there isn’t enough in the city’s code to point to for remedying a problem.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to work with something that doesn’t really give us the teeth that we need to get the action completed that the council wants,” said Falls, who said the ordinance is paramount for enforcement. “That’s how we get compliance from the vast majority of complaints that we get.”
A draft amendment of the city’s nuisance ordinance is expected to be available for council’s preliminary review at an upcoming work session. Batty gave council members some indication of what could be changed in it when he referenced those revisions made in Medina six years ago, amendments he said he helped to draft.
Notably, the Medina ordinance runs longer in its specification of nuisances, covering 18 different types of nuisance to Minnetrista’s 11. A specific provision allowing for the removal of unlicensed, junk or abandoned vehicles by local PD is also part of the Medina ordinance but not currently part of Minnetrista’s. Chief Falls said these vehicles account for the majority of complaints received by Minnetrista Police.