City Council reviews tall grass, unsafe property issues

Unmowed yards and unsafe nuisance buildings consumed much of the discussion by the City Council of Webster City Monday night during its regular session.

Karen Camp, who lives on Division Street, addressed the council about a property adjacent to her home. She said that the grass on that property stood nearly waist high and the property owner had made no attempt to mow this year. She added that she had called the city inspector’s office several times without any results.

“Why is this not a priority?” she asked. “If I was trying to sell my home, would you want to buy it next to that property?”

Camp also said that there was a problem with snow removal at the property as well.

Gerald Huisman who lives on Bicentennial Court, suggested the city should keep the grass mown on its own properties as well.

Later in the meeting, the council members did approve a contract with T & D Handyman Services to handle the mowing of nuisance properties in the community. The contract was for $25 per hour. The costs for the mowing would then be assessed back to property owners. City Inspector Jared Ruby said that out of six mowing contractors contacted, T & D Handyman Services was the only one to submit a bid. He said many contractors were worried about what they might hit when mowing the tall grass and the costs they would incur to repair blades and other mower parts.

Ruby said that about 75 letters have been sent out to property owners in the community concerning mowing issues. About 45 of those land owners need to be reminded each year about nuisance issues on their property, according to Ruby.

City Manager Ed Sadler said that while the heavy spring rains have contributed to the tall grass problem, the ground is now mostly dry and shouldn’t prevent mowing of most areas.

In other nuisance issues, the City Council voted to move ahead with the notices concerning abatement of nuisances on two properties, 1116 Elm St., owned by Jay Wynkoop, and the second at 1514 Superior St., owned by No Pants LLC of Florida.

Both property owners will be given 30 days to abate the nuisances. In the event that the owners fail to abate the nuisance at the properties, the city would then have the option to handle the nuisance itself and assess the costs to the owners or a municipal infraction could be filed against the property owners.

Sadler said there are a handful of other properties in the wings that will likely come before the council in the future. He offered a suggestion for one way to fund the demolition of nuisance properties where the owners are unable to repair or tear down the homes, or where owners are out-of-state do not respond to notices from the city.

He suggested that low-to-moderate income funds, which are required to be set aside from TIF funds, could be used to promote the health and safety of a neighborhood and to protect property values.

“I believe the majority of these buildings are in LMI qualified neighborhoods. By taking these actions, the LMI neighborhood is improved because a green space is better than an unsafe structure,” he said. He suggested that after demolition, certain restrictions would need to be put on the property including a lien so that if the property is sold, the city could recoup the demolition costs.

The council directed Sadler and city staff to begin the process of establishing criteria for the plan. He was also directed to seek a legal opinion on the use of the funds.

“People need to realize that this won’t happen overnight,” said Councilman Jerry Kloberdanz. “This will take time.”

In other business, the council made the following appointments to city boards and commissions:

Diane Knutson, Airport Commission, four-year term; Sherry Adams, Airport Zoning Board of Adjustment, five-year term; Tami Hejlik, Airport Zoning Commission, six-year term; Carolyn Cross, Planning and Zoning Commission, four-year term; Pat Westcott, business community representative to Hotel/Motel Tax Board, four-year term; Jean Fox, public at-large representative, Hotel/Motel Tax Board, four-year term; Cathy Olson, Zoning Board of Adjustment, five-year term.