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CDC ponders time limit on building permits

Hoping to draw from other Minnesota cities, the Detroit Lakes Community Development Committee is going over ordinances to see if the city wants to adopt one pertaining to time limits on building permits.

Although no surrounding cities have ordinances for unfinished houses, city staff found some examples in Mound, Lake City, Hector, Barnesville and Albertville. Most cities don't have an ordinance because it could be like opening Pandora's box.

"I've only had this problem once in the 18 years I've been with the city," Community Development Director Larry Remmen said, referring to the property along Deadshot Bay, which sparked the discussion in the first place.

"Extend that back to 25 years," City Administrator Bob Louiseau added.

Violations of other nuisance ordinances result in abatement, where the city comes in and cleans up the mess and charges the landowner for the work. In the case of an unfinished house though, Alderman Jim Anderson said that's likely just causing another problem.

He said that the house probably isn't finished in the first place because the owner has no money to continue. By abating the nuisance and assessing the owner then, where is the money going to come from to afford that?

Alderman Bruce Imholte added that he'd like to see a happy medium between forcing the homeowner to clean up and having it look bad for the neighborhood.

Alderman Ron Zeman said he felt the city needed to have an ordinance so that neighbors wouldn't have to be calling into the city to say a house needs to be finished.

Louiseau said if the city approves an ordinance, the council should be careful as to what consequences they will be enforcing as abatement. For example, he said, when one man's unpainted house was abated, before the city could come in an paint, the man tore the siding off his house. Now the issue will come before the council again, and this time it will be to abate the nuisance and have the siding hung. The abatements keep getting more and more costly, he said.

Imholte said he doesn't see the problem with having an ordinance because all the examples say the city can give extensions to get the project finished. Having the ordinance though will give the city "leverage" to get it finished in a timely manner.

"Sometimes pulling the trigger is worse than having no gun at all," Alderman GL Tucker said, meaning the city shouldn't rush into an ordinance.

Brenk said he'd like to take the information from other cities and "digest" it, coming back next month to decide if the city wants to have an ordinance and if so, what will be included in it.