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Nuisance ordinance coming

The Kitsap County Commissioners are set to approve on Monday the county’s proposed nuisance ordinance, a measure designed to keep properties clean of garbage and junk cars.

Kitsap County code enforcement supervisor Eric Baker says the proposed nuisance ordinance will be considered for decision only at the commissioners’ Monday morning meeting. The public comment period for the ordinance is already closed.

“Under current law, we can issue tickets in a circular manner and still dirty properties don’t get cleaned up,” said Baker, who fully expects the commissioners to pass the nuisance ordinance on Monday. “The difference with this ordinance is that we can go through the whole process and, at the end of it, we can clean up problem properties.”

Following months of debate and amendment-making, county officials say the nuisance ordinance finally strikes a balance between its staunchest opponents and proponents.

Proponents say the measure protects them from dwindling property values and loss of peace of mind if a neighbor, for whatever reason, won’t clean up their property or haul away junk cars.

Meanwhile, opponents have said the measure unfairly targets legitimate classic car collectors and those who fix up older cars as a hobby.

Taking to heart comments — in this particular case — from car groups, the county changed the ordinance to allow for up to six junked cars on a piece of property, so long as they are screened from view and the owners agree the cars won’t drip oil or other contaminants into the environment. The agreement attaches a one-time, $10 fee to each vehicle registered under the program.

Proper screening includes natural vegetation, fencing or the placement of cars 250 feet away from surrounding property lines.

Under the revised ordinance, junk cars must meet three of four criteria: The vehicle must be at least three years old, it must be significantly damaged, inoperable to the observe and the market value that of scrap.

While several compromises were incorporated into the nuisance ordinance, the measure still provides for the eventual cleanup of junk-strewn properties, whether it’s a voluntary effort or not.

As it stands now, county code enforcement officers can, when warranted, issue civil citations with fines of at least $475 to property owners with junky lawns or sites filled with garbage.

In turn, those civil citations can be heard in district court and appealed all the way up through the state judicial system.

But Baker said even if the judicial appeals process finds in favor of the county, and even though citations have been issued, there’s no way to guarantee neighbors that a problem property will get cleaned up.

“We don’t write citations for the money, but to address a serious matter,” said Baker. “The public nuisance process outlined in this ordinance would allow us to eventually clean up the property. It is the second prong to a two-pronged approach.”

Under the proposed nuisance ordinance, the county can ask a recalcitrant property owner to sign on to a voluntary cleanup agreement, but only if the county tried to clean up junky properties by exhausting the aforementioned civil infraction process first.

In basic terms, the voluntary-correction agreement outlines a time frame during which the property owner is expected to clean up the unsightly site.

By signing the contract, the property owner waives the right to appeal the matter before the violations hearing examiner.

Baker said that even if the property owner refuses to sign the agreement, the county can declare the property a public nuisance. At such time, the property owner can appeal that order to the violations hearing examiner, all the way up to Superior Court. Once the appeals process has been exhausted and if the court finds in favor of the county, the property will be cleaned up.

Baker said Kitsap County Public Works officials and equipment would roll in and haul away junk and other garbage and bill the property owner for the cost by placing a lien on the property.

Kitsap County officials don’t anticipate having to wield the public nuisance ordinance too many times during a given year. But the idea is to have an ordinance in place so that problem properties are cleaned up.

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