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Council freezes work on nuisance code revisions

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Several questions were posed to councilors during Tuesday’s meeting

By Kirsten Laskey

Updating the nuisance code was put on ice during the Los Alamos County Council meeting Tuesday night. The council voted, with Councilors Nona Bowman and Mike Wheeler opposing, to put a freeze on any action with the proposed nuisance ordinance changes. Furthermore, the council agreed that prioritized enforcement of current ordinances should proceed.
There were several questions regarding the nuisance code that were posed to councilors during the meeting Tuesday night but because of the time, the council decided to only address the first question – does the council wish to revise and consolidate existing nuisance-related ordinances?
Revising the nuisance code was initially the council’s idea. According to agenda documents, during its last strategic planning session, council asked the Community Development Department (CDD) to prepare an ordinance establishing maintenance standards for commercial property.
In March, the agenda documents reported, to respond to the growing number of community complaints about nuisance code enforcement, the CDD presented a status report of the code enforcement program and regulations governing residential yards and private property.
The problem with the existing code, the staff report pointed out, was that there are few requirements for maintenance of commercial buildings and existing ordinances covering residential yard maintenance and that vehicle storage had become problematic.
In an earlier interview, CDD Director Rick Bohn told the Monitor that 30 percent of the complaints lodged were not clearly addressed in the code. This could be interpreted to mean that either code is being misunderstood or it needs to be rewritten.
Plus, if any issues with the code were taken to court, Bohn said, it would be difficult to substantiate because of the codes are currently written.
Not everyone agreed there needs to be a change to the code. During public comment, one woman said the fact is Los Alamos is a diverse community and its diversity extends to housing.
Looking at the proposed changes, she said she “really finds some of these suggested revisions absurd, frankly.”
Calling upon his past experience as councilor, George Chandler urged the council to not take on this task of revising the code.
When he was on council, Chandler said they passed an ordinance on weeds.
Turning to the long line of people waiting for their turn at the microphone, Chandler said, “this is nothing,” compared to the reaction the weed ordinance received.
As result, he advised the council, “don’t go there.”
Councilor Sharon Stover told the Monitor that she voted against revising the code because “I just think we needed to do more work on it. We aren’t there yet,” she said.
“What we were presented showed us that we had not addressed the uniqueness of the community. I very much appreciated the public’s input because I got educated on what some of the issues are,” Stover said.
Bowman also believes work should continue on the code. She made a substitute motion to direct staff to proceed with revising the code that addresses the most extreme complaints.
“I felt that a draft code written by the staff, which is an international nuisance code was probably not the right fit for Los Alamos but we should listen to the people who felt they needed some help particularly in the older neighborhoods and I felt the county should help solve some of the problems that people believe negatively impacts their quality of life and possibly their property values,” she said. “I felt we should address problems that have to do with property ownership that come to the county the most. I think the staff said some of the issues with people having many, many boxes of collectibles in their front yard may be resolved by the code and help the individual address the problem. Also we heard the county staff say that some of these problems that citizens complain regularly about (are hard to address because) there is no enforceable county code to address the issues.  
“I was disappointed the substitute motion did not pass. I thought it might have solved the problems that concerned the citizens most,” Bowman said.
Don Mason, who attended the meeting, said he was also disappointed with council’s ultimate decision. “I was terribly disappointed in the fact that the substitute amendment did not pass,” he said. “I think Los Alamos needs to consolidate the various, scattered nuisance items because they’re ineffective and it proposed some that address the big issues.”
Regarding council’s decision to freeze work on the code, Bohn said the CDD will follow the council’s direction. “We’re going to follow the wording of the motion,” he said.