Minimum property standards approved

Denison is moving forward with its minimum property standards after a lengthy discussion Monday at the City Council meeting.

“It’s a tough issue — and that’s why we debated a lot tonight (Monday)— because where do you balance our role as the leadership versus the citizen’s right?” said Mayor Jared Johnson. “To me it boils down to: It’s affecting the neighbor next to them. So the greater good is, it’s not fair to the property owner next to the one that’s dilapidating.”

The council approved the minimum property standards in December along with a pilot program for a focused implementation with support for property owners who struggle to comply. However, in May the council voted 3-3 not to expand the pilot program. The council again discussed the item at a council retreat at the end of May, when it seemed from the discussion that there might be enough support from councilors to continue the program.

After the posted item, to repeal the minimum property standards ordinance, failed to draw even a motion from the council on Monday, the city will move from the initially targeted area to a new section.

Two residents addressed the council regarding the item. One urged the council not to repeal the ordinance, while another said the idea of beautification was good, but told the council to go back to the drawing board.

The council does seem amiable to considering changes to the program as they move forward. One that will likely be considered soon is an item brought up by Councilor Ken Brawley. Brawley asked that the standards pay more attention to the curb appeal of property and take steps to ensure quality workmanship and materials.

The council also discussed the portion of the program where the city assists property owners struggling to meet the requirements.

In the initial pilot program 21 properties were identified that did not comply with the standards, 69 percent complied voluntarily with one receiving financial assistance from the city. Community Development Director Tom Speakman said all the property owners were given the opportunity to apply for assistance, only one did, and the owner qualified.

The council used the financial guidelines it is currently using for it’s emergency rehab program that is funded with federal grant funds. Speakman said, as an example, under the latest financial guidelines a household of four with an income of less than $52,000 would qualify for assistance; a household of one with an income of less than $32,500 would also qualify.

The council seems willing to consider changes to those guidelines, but not before the city experiences a situation where the homeowners who say they need assistance apply, but don’t qualify.

“This is going to continue to be a work in progress,” Johnson said. “When we go to other geographic regions we’re going to find new issues that didn’t come up in this first round, but I know that 70 percent voluntary compliance was a good first step, in my opinion.”

Not unrelated to the minimum property standards, the council also discussed the city’s demolitions program. The consensus of the council seems to be that the city continue to focus its demolition funds on gateways, thoroughfares and other highly-trafficked routes. Councilor Matt Hanley suggested that the council be more selective about the properties it demolishes, choosing those that will have the greatest impact on improving Denison’s appearance.

Johnson said the city should also focus on the areas that have been the focus of the minimum property standards pilot program. One thing that wasn’t settled was when the city should place liens on property for demolitions.

Previously the city has been bound by federal guidelines that prohibit liens on residential property. Since the city is no longer using federal funds, the restrictions no longer apply. Councilors ultimately decided to take that portion up at another meeting, when they can get more information about both sides of the issue.

Also at a future meeting, the council will be considering, likely on its consent agenda, a written policy in line with Monday’s discussion governing demolitions.

In other business, the council approved:

• awarding contract to the lowest and best bids for demolitions;

• assessing mowing liens; and

• bids for hay bailing at Lake Randell.