Public weighs in on nuisance code

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By Kirsten Laskey

One person’s blight is another individual’s beauty. Everyone has their own opinions of how a property should look, but despite the variety of opinions, residents who attended two recent meetings on updating Los Alamos County’s nuisance ordinance, supported the endeavour.
The county was running into a problem with its current nuisance code, said Rick Bohn, director of the county’s Community Development Department. People were expressing concerns to the Community Development Department, to the county councilors, he said. Many people, Bohn said, felt that maintenance standards had fallen for residences.
Another problem the development department faces is that 30 percent of the complaints are not clearly addressed in the current code. This can be interpreted in several ways, Bohn said. Either the code is being misunderstood or it needs to be rewritten. Plus, he said if issues regarding the code are taken to court, it would be difficult because of the way it is written. “It’s sort of vague,” he said. “It might be hard to adjudicate. There are sections that are just not clear.”
As a result of this, county council asked the development department to come up with standards for non-residential and residential properties.
The two meetings, which were held Sept. 16 and Sept. 23, collected feedback from the public.
“I think the majority of people were in favor of what we’re doing,” Bohn said. “Two-thirds of people who spoke thought it was long overdue. The majority were very much in favor.”
One of the attendees at the meetings, Katy Korkos, member services coordinator for the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce, said people seem to agree this is an issue that needs to be addressed. “There seemed to be a consensus that we need some ordinance to address messy properties.”  
Korkos said, “I would say most of the people who attended had individual concerns such as abandoned vehicles, what constitutes a noxious weed, the ability to keep chickens … there were several individual points that were brought up.”
There was a lot of input given about handling weeds. Bohn said there are many different situations and conditions in regards to landscaping. A couple of people who attended the meeting felt it wasn’t the government’s job to intrude on a personal aesthetic decision.
Another big issue dealt with parking cars around residences – people had opinions on whether to allow cars, campers and other vehicles to be parked on a lawn or just “willy-nilly.”
“One suggestion we received … is that we allow some sort of appeal process for the new code so if people have very unusual situations, it will allow them to come to a citizen board to ask for an appeal or waiver; (and hopefully) that will waive some of the concerns people have,” he said.  
Bohn said the department staff is working to incorporate that suggestion into the revised code. He said they are considering implementing a waiver system rather than an appeal that process.
The department is not trying to reinvent the wheel as it revises the code, Bohn said. It is following the International Property Maintenance Code.
While feedback from the community was collected, the development department asked the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce to host another meeting for local commercial property owners to collect their feedback.
It will be from 10:30-11:30 a.m. Oct. 12 at the Chamber of Commerce conference room.
The revised code will be presented to council Oct. 19.  Council will be able to make suggestions for the code, which will be included in the final ordinance.
If people are interested in more information, they are encouraged to go to the county’s Web site, which is www.losalamosnm.us/cdd/Pages/default.aspx.