Leader Blues

Friday, October 09, 2009

TOP STORY >> City tweaks new codes

Leader staff writer

After more than two hours of discussion and debate that even included whether Sunnyside was part of Jacksonville or not, the city council decided it would not be the bedroom police as it worked to clarify the proposed nuisance-abatement ordinance.

The council also threw dirt on the idea of requiring dust-free driveways.

The ordinance, with all the changes recommended Thursday night, passed on the first reading. It must be read and approved two more times before it becomes city code.

The second reading will be at the regular city council meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday when aldermen will look at a clean copy with all the latest changes. The council could also waive standard procedures and approve a third reading, making it law.

Even with the many changes, the ordinance, to the chagrin of many in the audience, still contains the right-of-entry clause, which allows code-enforcement officers and other officials to enter a home or to get a search warrant to enter a home.

A section requiring businesses to pay to get back their “found” shopping carts is also in the ordinance. It’ll be the first time the city has ever had a reclamation fee ($25) for shopping carts.

At the end of the marathon session, Alderman Bob Stroud said the council had worked really hard. “We are making this as fair as possible, as perfect as possible, but if we don’t enforce it, we’ve just wasted a lot of paper and time,” he said.

The issue of Sunny-side came up as the council debated the section about dust-free driveways. All the aldermen wanted that section removed, and Alderman Terry Sansing offered an alternative passage that allows residents to park on driveways of concrete, stone or dirt or in an area of their yard that they have always used as a driveway, as long as the vehicles are parked perpendicular to the street.

City Planner Chip McCulley reminded the council that it has been a law for a long time that no vehicles can park in city streets or rights of way.

During the debate, Stroud said, “You just can’t write a citywide rule as long as we have Sunnyside. We seem to let them slide and write up the other subdivisions.”

Sansing said his amendment was fair to everyone, including Sunnyside residents.

About that time, Alderman Reedie Ray, visibly upset, said, “You all are always saying, ‘Sunnyside this’ and ‘Sunnyside that.’

You talk like it’s separate from Jacksonville. It’s part of our city. I hate that you keep bringing them up. Can’t you just let the people there be?”

Nothing was settled about Sunnyside, but other aldermen were quiet for a short time after Ray voiced his concerns.

In the end, the council agreed to Sansing’s amendment and the dust-free clause bit the dust.

Aldermen Kenny Elliot asked that two of the 10 descriptions of an inoperable or abandoned vehicle be stricken and the council agreed. Gone is the sentence that says a vehicle will be considered inoperable if it hasn’t been moved for more than three days. Also, unregistered or unlicensed vehicles will not automatically be considered abandoned or inoperable.

An issue that Elliott was adamant about was the number of people, particularly children, in a bedroom. “The way this ordinance stands right now, we are criminalizing poor people for having children,” he said.

At issue was a clause that said a bedroom had to have 50 square feet for every occupant of that room. The average bedroom, according to McCulley, runs 80 to 100 square feet. “That means if a family has three kids in a room, they are violating the law,” Elliott said.

Alderman Marshall Smith said the restriction came about when officials discovered 26 people living in a home with just one bathroom a number of years ago. “That’s still going on,” Alderman Avis Twitty said.

Mayor Gary Fletcher said, “We are not going to become the bedroom police.”

Elliott’s concern was that if the city received a complaint from a neighbor, it would have to investigate then. He wanted the clause to be changed to require just 35 square feet per room occupant. “We’ll still get the real abusers,” he said. After much debate, the council approved Elliott’s suggestion.