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Property and home upkeep, leeway for signs considered

Changes to the proposed sign ordinance, discussion of the proposed property maintenance ordinance, and appointments to the Parks and Recreation Commission were considered by the City Council Agenda Committee.

The committee considers actions to be placed on the agenda for the coming city council meeting. The next Cabot City Council meeting will be July 21.

Committee members Kevin Davis, Jon Moore, Angie Jones, Rick Prentice, Ann Gilliam, Ed Long and Ryan Flynn attended the meeting.

Public works director Brian Buroughs presented a suggested rewording of the proposed city sign ordinance, revising the limitations on portable signs. During the June 20 council meeting, members of Criswell-Robinson, Cabot American Legion Post 71, led by post commander James Sanders, called on aldermen to consider changing the proposed city sign ordinance to better meet the needs of local, not-for-profit organizations. The proposed ordinance was on the meeting agenda for its second reading.

Sanders asked a way to approve use of the otherwise-prohibited portable signs.

As the draft-ordinance stood, portable signs such as used by the Post are prohibited in the city. Sanders said that the American Legion Post relies heavily on a portable sign to reach a wider range of people in announcing fund-raising events. But such a sign is not allowed under the proposed ordinance.

Sanders called on the council to develop wording in the ordinance that would allow for such temporary signs.

While the ordinance reading was approved, it is with the understanding that an Buroughs would attempt to change the wording; he presented the proposed change at the agenda meeting.

Buroughs said the change would allow businesses to the use the otherwise prohibited sign for six 10-day periods each year. The change would allow the some for church, school and civic organizations for non-commercial messages. The signs would be allowed off-premises for a non-commercial message, with the landowner’s consent, the sign has to be removed when the event is over, it cannot be illuminated and cannot be placed in the road right-of-way.

Prentice remarked on the provisions for an otherwise illegal sign. “It is illegal or it is not illegal. It is either permitable or it is not permitable.”

Buroughs said the choices were made to avoid infringing on what becomes a free speech matter, “We had to walk that tightrope.”

School, Church and Civic organizations may apply for a permit to promote an Off-premises non-commercial event. An off premises portable sign may be used as long as the property owner gives permission; signs must be removed when the event is over; signs are not lighted; signs may not be placed in the right-of-way

The committee voted to change the wording from “event” to “message,” and to send the ordinance back to the planning commission for a public hearing, after which the council action could continue.

The committee reviewed the proposed property maintenance ordinance. Long said consideration of the ordinance began about 18 months ago to add a provision for regular inspections of rental properties.

Having such a provision could have prevented the situations at the Lindsey Street Apartments and the Alpine Village apartments when the city closed the complexes down, he said.

“I know the city gets a lot of calls from a lot of people that need a lot of help with some of this rental property that’s around,” Long said.

Code enforcement officer Scott Kelley said that, in his experience, such property maintenance ordinances have worked well.

The proposed ordinance would make enforcement easier by compiling local, state and national codes, “A lot of these are regulations we already have in place, they are just scattered out,” he said.

Under the 32-page ordinance the code enforcement officer “is authorized to enter any structure or premises at any reasonable time for the purpose of making inspections…”

If any “owner occupant, or other person in charge of a structure” interferes with code enforcement a court order can be obtained.

The code enforcement official would have the authority “to adopt and promulgate rules and regulations to interpret and implement the provisions of this code…”

Used materials and equipment cannot be reused until approved by the code official.

The ordinance would define an unsafe structure, and unsafe equipment, and the process of requiring an empty structure to be closed “So as not to be an attractive nuisance to criminal activity.”

Requirements are set for exterior property areas, exterior structure, decorative features, chimneys and towers, and for when window screens are required.

Interior features, such as cracked plaster, peeling paint, decayed wood and “other defective surface conditions” shall be corrected.

Tolerances for lead-based paints are set.

Ventilation and interior lighting requirements are detailed.

Other details include prohibiting cooking in “any rooming unit or dormitory unit” unless approved in the certificate of occupancy. The regulation exempts “microwaves” and coffeepots.

Kitchens, non-habitable spaces and “interior public spaces” are not to be used for sleeping purposes.

Minimum temperature requirements are set at 65 degrees measured three feet above the floor.

The last section of the ordinance would set 2-year scheduled inspections for rental units. Other inspections could be made at request of the owner, on receipt of a complaint to the city, the unit is affected by fire, storm, vandalism or natural disaster, transfer of title to the property, or “a good faith concern based upon observations by a code enforcement officer.”

Ordinances being considered by the council are available online at www.cabotar.gov. In the News and Announcements column, select the link for the July 7 city council agenda meeting.

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