Council works toward blight ordinance

Negaunee Mayor David Kangas singing the property maintenance code on Monday. (Courtesy of the city of Negaunee)

NEGAUNEE — An effort to eliminate blight in commercial properties in Negaunee is moving forward, but the campaign will take a community-centric approach, according to a press release issued by the city Friday.

The Negaunee City Council adopted the 2018 Negaunee Property Maintenance Code during its regular meeting in December, although city policies and procedures will need to be established before the code can be enforced, City Manager Nate Heffron said.

“We will, probably, will not start taking anybody to task on this ordinance until June or July,” Heffron said in an interview in December. “It’s important to note that.”

The code sets maintenance standards and property conditions on commercial, industrial and rental home properties that will be administered by the city’s planning and zoning administrator, who will receive training in inspection techniques.

“The concentration of this code is only on the exterior of the buildings, the main buildings, the grounds of the building and out-buildings,” Heffron said. “Not internal of any building whatsoever.”

Heffron also pointed out that there will be no fees associated with property inspection, noting that Negaunee residents continue to be involved in the process of establishing the code.

“When I first got here, at nearly every meeting someone has come up to me, unsolicited, about blight,” Heffron said. “It more or less was the community that decided to do this. In the master plan there’s reference to blight, and people want to see something happen with that.”

The requests, in part, led to a community approach, Heffron said.

An advisory committee made up of non-elected individuals helped to mold the ordinance, and the city is continuing the approach by creating a five-member diversionary team — selected from the general public — who will work with property owners to establish a time frame on longer projects to eliminate blight, Heffron said.

The city, he added, expects to seek members to serve on the diversionary team within the next couple of months.

The process will begin when a non-compliant property owner receives a letter detailing the violation or violations.

“The property owner will then have 120 days to become compliant,” Heffron said. “If the list of violations requires more than 120 days to complete, the property owner will be encouraged to seek relief from the diversionary team. Legitimately, a property owner could say several years; however, the team will not allow for that long of a time frame because it’s too open-ended. Instead, the team will negotiate with the property owner to work on several of the items on their list and give them a time frame to complete, basically whittling down their list.”

Once a list of projects negotiated with the diversionary team is completed, the owner could conceivably be granted additional time to complete other items on their list, Heffron said, a process which, under the code, could be repeated until no violations exist.

Although fines are written into the code, Heffron said he would prefer never to have to collect them.

“This is a program designed to eliminate blight within the community,” he said. “I couldn’t care less if we saw one penny from anybody, I would rather see blight taken care of. This is not a program developed for the city to make money, or justify a postion.”

Heffron said the city will continue to work to educate the public about the code while the logistics of implementing it are completed by city staff. A copy of the code can be viewed online at www.cityofnegaunee.com, or at the Negaunee Public Library.