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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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City to seek out property issues

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Extra measures planned by Martinsville officials to try to rid the city of property maintenance nuisances will begin March 1.

Until now, city officials have relied on complaints from the public to learn about nuisance ordinance violations such as high grass, inoperable vehicles and accumulations of old furniture and appliances outdoors. That is due to limited staffing in the city inspections department, officials have said.

Complaints from the public still will be investigated.

However, when the new month arrives, about a dozen city workers outside the inspections department who have received special training will be looking for property maintenance violations as they travel the city doing their usual tasks, Martinsville City Council found out Monday night during its Northside neighborhood meeting.

Those workers include some police officers, garbage collection workers and meter readers, said city Deputy Fire Marshal/Property Maintenance Inspector Andy Powers. They will be looking for problems based on “what you can see from the legal right of way,” he said.

When they spot violations, they will attach notices of the violations to the door of the main structure on the properties. Notices will list violations they saw as well as a date on which the property will be reinspected — probably within 3-5 days, according to Powers.

“This is considered a legal notice” to correct the violation immediately, he said.

If the reinspection reveals a violation still exists, Powers said the city employee will have authority to, for instance, call a tow truck to have an inoperative vehicle towed away or a landscaping crew to mow high grass.

The property owner then will receive a bill from the city for $225 or the actual cost of the cleanup or removal, whichever is higher, he said.

The intent, Powers said, is to “motivate people to take care of their own property” and speed up removal of nuisances.

But the city cannot remove everything that people may consider unsightly, council members learned while touring Northside in a van before the meeting started, examining the conditions of properties there.

They and city employees examined an occupied house in the neighborhood at which plants and bushes in the front yard are “so overgrown,” Mayor Kim Adkins said, “that you can’t see the grass.”

Powers said the city legally cannot handle such situations without having a landscaping ordinance because what one person considers to be nuisance plants and bushes, another person might find pleasing.

Something needs to be done when, for instance, “a mailman can’t go down the sidewalk to get to the front porch,” said Councilman Mark Stroud.

Still, Powers indicated that he thinks it would not be appropriate to enact a landscaping ordinance — at least, one so restrictive that it dictates types of “decorative vegetation” a person can have or how much it can grow. He said it would be “micromanaging ... what you have on your personal property.”

During a council meeting at 7:30 tonight, Assistant City Manager Wayne Knox will unveil a proposed neighborhood revitalization project for part of Northside.

At Monday night’s meeting, council members learned from a Northside resident and city officials about problems at an apartment complex. The problems include high grass and loud noises late at night.

The council indicated it will look at having the complex legally declared a public nuisance to try and stop the problems.

Council members also learned about a problem that a couple who lives just outside the city limits in Henry County had when they called 911 to report a peddler in their neighborhood who scared them.

Pat McCain said the peddler seemed to be of a “very unseemly character” and was “trying to push his way into the house” but did not get in.

She said her husband, Woody, was told by a 911 dispatcher “not very nice at all” that the situation was not an emergency.

The couple reported the incident to J.R. Powell, director of the city-county 911 Center, who they understand is investigating.

Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge said police have told her that “if you think it’s an emergency, then it’s an emergency.”

She and other council members, city officials and police at the meeting emphasized that anyone who is in a situation in which they feel scared or threatened should immediately call 911 without hesitation.

“We’ll get there as soon as we can,” said city police Officer Coretha Gravely.

With cold, snowy weather in the forecast, Fire Chief Ken Draper reminded people to be careful with portable indoor heaters — such as by making sure they use the right type of fuel. That will help prevent fires, he said.


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