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Sweep set for neighborhood maintenance violations

WILLMAR -- Staff from the city's Planning and Development Services Department will be driving through the neighborhoods during the next few weeks looking for properties in violation of exterior maintenance and storage regulations.

"Every couple of years we've tried to do a complete sweep of the community just to restore neighborhoods to a basic standard of livability and attractiveness,'' says Bruce Peterson, department director.

The city planner and two building inspectors will drive through the neighborhoods. If they see something that catches their attention, they'll get out the vehicle, note the violations and in most cases they'll post a high-visibility notice on the property, letting the owner know about the violations and setting a time period for compliance.

Peterson expects the sweep will begin next week and carry into early to mid-May.

"It's quite an undertaking to get through the whole community and note violations, document them and actually issue the citations. Then we'll have to schedule follow-up inspections for compliance,'' he said. "It's just one way of the department working to maintain the livability of the neighborhoods to prevent major deterioration.''

The sweep is the culmination of complaints from residents and City Council members, and staff when they are out in the neighborhoods every day, doing inspections and other planning and zoning work.

"We've got a pretty idea of where the areas are we need to focus,'' said Peterson. "But every street and every residential property in the community will be visited and we'll probably extend into the commercial areas as well. It will be the whole city.''

Peterson said notices have already been sent to properties that have been the subject of multiple complaints. Peterson guesses his office will cite from 300 to 350 properties in the sweep. Historically there are typically from 400 to 700 violations a year, depending on whether or not the city does a sweep.

"If we didn't do a sweep over the course of the year, we'd still probably pick up quite a few of these properties from complaints,'' he said. "This just allows us to go out and do it in a more efficient, uniform fashion, where we've got people out on the street and the eyes are consistently applying uniform standards to all the properties.''

Peterson said some people just throw their garbage out the door. Some have junk vehicles, building supplies, furniture and appliances sitting outside.

"It just gets taken out and set in the yard and that's the kind of stuff we want to see cleaned up,'' Peterson said.

Staff will also look for properties that have significant amounts of peeling paint, shingles in extremely poor condition, broken windows or screens, ripped screen doors and masonry in need of repair or stucco that's breaking apart.

"There's a minimum threshold of conditions that the council has adopted that really need to be maintained in order to preserve the structure of the home, the integrity of the home, and quite frankly the tax base of the community,'' said Peterson.

Other cities also conduct these sweeps, he said.

"We've actually had a number of cities contact us because they like our high-visibility notice process,'' he said. "It's cheaper than sending notices in the mail. We always have the people that claim they never got their high-visibility notice, but usually staff will knock on the door and try to hand deliver it. If they're not there, they will leave it in the door. When we leave a high-visibility notice and it is a rental property, we also notify the property owner.''

Out of 7,500 to 8,000 individual residential units -- some of which are apartment buildings -- an average of 500 to 600 a year are in violation.

"But you can see that we've got good, consistent compliance by probably 85 or 90 percent of the properties in town,'' Peterson said. "It's the 10 to 15 percent that are repeat violators that take up the time of staff.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150