City council approves first reading of proposed ordinance to address blight

Blight Committee member Rhonda Gravedoni, right at podium, addresses the Negaunee City Council about the city’s proposed property maintenance code ordinance at the Negaunee Senior Center on Thursday. The council heard the first reading of the ordinance and set a public hearing on the matter on Dec. 13. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

NEGAUNEE — The city of Negaunee has taken a significant initial step in its effort to address blight in its business district.

The Negaunee City Council approved the first reading of the city’s proposed property maintenance code ordinance at its regular meeting on Thursday.

The code, drafted under the direction of a six-member Special Advisory Committee on Blight Resolution, is intended to “maintain, preserve and improve the stock of non-residential buildings in the city,” and is written, in part, by using excerpts from the International Property Maintenance Code.

City Manager Nate Heffron said properties that would be governed by the proposed code would include not only downtown commercial buildings but residential rental properties as well.

Aaron Miljour, owner of a commercial building on Iron Street, expressed concern during public comment that the IPMC in its entirety would be implemented along with the new code.

“The warning is for all the citizens of the town because it started with one building downtown, then commercial buildings and then they could go for residential,” Miljour said. “And I guess this is also for the city council, you are … would be transferring all of your sovereignty all of your code-creating ability to a private company (IPMC).”

Heffron said the city would not be adopting the IPMC in its entirety, but instead paid the company $600 for permission to use excerpts from the code.

“This code was pulled from the International Property Maintenance Code,” Heffron said. “It is not a full International Property Maintenance Code, it is our version. There are some misnomers, we are not giving up any sovereignty to anybody. We can’t do that. That’s not what happens here. We control the law, you guys make the law, I administrate the law.”

He said the city’s approach would be much different from the city’s approach in the past.

Under the proposed code, a Diversionary Team consisting of five appointed members, to respond to citizen complaints and nuisance issues “collaboratively with persons or entities to resolve violations arising out of this code in lieu of citation/prosecution of the violation(s).”

“I see this as a more friendly approach because we are willing to work with everybody to find a way to get to a solution,” Heffron said. “We don’t want to create a community where we are trying to push people out, shut people out (and) cause all these types of hard feelings. I feel that that is part of the approach we had in the past. But we are going to get rid of that whole approach.”

Councilor Jim Kantola said he supports the approach the city is taking toward blight, and encouraged the city to set an example.

“It is better with a carrot than with a stick, and we need it, we absolutely need it and I support it wholeheartedly,” Kantola said. I want to add that point that the city itself has got some buildings and they are on the hook as much as a (property) owner is.”

Heffron said that while the city could not be held legally liable for its properties under the law.

“We are going to lead by example and clean up our own properties as best we can,” he said.

Rhonda Gravedoni, a member of the Special Advisory Committee on Blight resolution, said she was determined from the beginning that the properties the city owns be part of the solution.

“In regards to the city buildings, following the blight ordinance, I was passionate, just as all of you are that we set by example,” she said. “But I behoove the city to follow and set examples, because that is going to be the precedent of moving forward with this.”

A public hearing on the ordinance will be held at the Dec. 12 council meeting.