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City taking steps toward nuisance enforcement

Hoping to not encounter another situation like last year's unfinished construction at Deadshot Bay, the city is taking a step to be able to enforce the nuisance of unfinished structures.

After consulting the League of Minnesota Cities and other cities, City Attorney Bill Briggs drafted an ordinance that would amend the Detroit Lakes city code on nuisances.

"I tried to develop an ordinance that was simple and utilizes the process we already have in place," he said.

After nine years of unfinished construction, residents of the Deadshot Bay area came before the Detroit Lakes City Council last summer to see what could be done about the property across the street. The owner had obtained a building permit for the footings and foundation of a house, finished that portion and then stopped construction.

After nearly a decade, the weeds had become overgrown, and neighbors didn't find the snow fence around the foundation exactly desirable.

In the end, the city replaced the cap on the foundation for health, safety and well-being reasons, and the work was assessed to the property, which was already in foreclosure.

Now, the city is attempting to gain some teeth to enforce unfinished construction before it comes across this situation again.

"This gives you an enforcement mechanism you never had before," Briggs said.

The proposed ordinance -- of which the city council will hold its first reading at Tuesday's meeting -- says that an unreasonable state of partial construction includes an unfinished building or structure that has been under construction for more than one year. The building also has to been "abandoned," or unoccupied, for at least 12 months.

"I have questions of enforceability," Briggs said as to what can be declared as a nuisance. What looks unsightly and is a nuisance to a neighbor is essentially "in the eye of the beholder," he added.

If someone is found to be in violation of the ordinance, Briggs said it would go through the same process other nuisance ordinance violations do, with a period of time to clean up the property, a public hearing before the city council and then action by the city.

Although Briggs had originally drafted the ordinance to include no construction or not living in it for six months, Alderman Bruce Imholte suggested a change to one year.

Community Development Director Larry Remmen said that would make more sense because a building permit is valid for one year.

"With new construction, a year goes by pretty quickly," he said.

"The timeframe isn't so much (important) as the enforcement," Imholte said. "If we're going to do a year, let's enforce it."

Another question raised was that separate permits are given for building projects. Someone can get a permit for the footings and basement, finish that portion of the construction and never get one to finish the construction, still staying within the guidelines because they completed the construction for which the permit was granted.

"It's a legitimate point, if partial permits should be granted," Briggs agreed. "Keep in mind that can be an issue."

In the ordinance, it states that unfinished basements are considered a nuisance, which is how the city could approach that issue and at least attempt to enforce it.

One other point Briggs mentioned, with this ordinance, it will be enforced on existing conditions, and no properties will be grandfathered in.

The Detroit Lakes City Council meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday in city hall.