County mulls nuisance laws

"A growing number of Kitsap County residents, plagued by neighbors who, for whatever reason, have allowed garbage, debris and sometimes junked cars to accumulate on their own lawns and private property, have complained repeatedly to county officials over the last year.They tend to be especially annoyed because, unless the messy property owner agrees to clean up and haul away any built-up trash, a county-forced cleanup by way of an abatement order under current Kitsap County law could take years to obtain in the courts.Residents want to know why. They don't want to wait as long as two years to see their messy neighbors clean up their act.After all, it's disheartening to take care of home and garden, only to walk outside and see a veritable junkyard next door, littered with garbage that could arguably attract vermin, lower property values in the neighborhood or cause safety hazards.The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners is heeding these residents' concerns. The hope, too, is that the commissioners can do so without also violating the rights of the allegedly messy landowner.Another man's junk could be another man's treasure, right?That's why the commissioners on Jan. 8 plan to consider adopting a new public nuisance ordinance that would outlaw the accumulation of junk on private property - so long as it's not a licensed junkyard - only following a public hearing. Junk is defined in various different ways in the ordinance, but basically follows a common sense approach. In other words, if it belongs at the dump and it's not in your garbage can, then it probably shouldn't be piling upon your private property.Department of Community Development inspector Mark Grimm urged the commissioners at the last meeting of the year to approve the ordinance, saying it exactly copies current state public nuisance laws and streamlines existing county codes that are already enforced today.County officials hope that citizens consider this public nuisance ordinance a law that is fair to everyone, especially since in similar forms throughout the state, it's stood up to judicial scrutiny time and time again.This ordinance effectively shortens the process, reduces the number of fines that could be issued and potentially takes the matter out of the criminal realm into the civil arena, Grimm said. As it is now, the process could take up to two years and mean thousands of dollars in fines.The proposed ordinance directs the county to first seek a voluntary clean-up agreement with the land-owner allegedly in violation of the proposed public nuisance ordinance. If the property owner doesn't meet the terms of the correction-agreement, then the county could abate or clean up the mess and charge the property owner later. If the violator refuses to enter into a voluntary clean-up agreement in the first place, then the county could issue a notice of abatement, ordering a clean-up effort, to the person responsible for the violation. That notice is appealable to a violations hearing examiner who could dismiss the appeal or uphold it. If the examiner dismisses the appeal, then the property owner, found in violation, is expected to clean up his or her mess in 30 days.If that deadline isn't met, then the county could clean up the mess at the cost of the owner. Under the proposed ordinance, then, clean up - voluntary or not - could apparently occur within months, not years.Though the county commissioners considered the matter Dec. 18, they decided to hold the matter over until January after further clarification was made to the ordinance. "

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