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City ordinance requires owners to register vacant buildings

by: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Jason MeshellA proposed Scappoose city ordinance that would directly affect owners of vacant properties is being held over for approval after city councilors proposed so many changes the city’s attorney said he would be uncomfortable drafting a new copy right then and there.

The ordinance under discussion at a City Council meeting Feb. 4 originally addressed two issues, both considered “nuisance conditions.”

The first part of Ordinance No. 825 would label certain properties “crime properties” if police were called to address three serious offenses in a single 90-day period. The second part of the ordinance addressed vacant buildings, which are often broken into, trashed or used as the site of illegal activities, said Scappoose Police Chief Doug Greisen. The ordinance would outline a series of steps police could take to secure these buildings and hold property owners accountable to cleaning them up and making them safe.

Councilor Larry Meres said he would not approve the first part of the ordinance dealing with “crime properties.” He was concerned that households with troubled kids or alcoholic family members — families who might call or have the police called down frequently — could be unfairly stamped with this “crime property” designation.

After a discussion that took up most of the meeting, the councilors decided to split the ordinance into two parts and deal with them separately at upcoming meetings. The council will address the vacant property ordinance at a public hearing Feb. 19 to incorporate changes which would require vacant property owners to have a local property manager or contact, as well as other changes.

Ordinance No. 825 “represents a significant departure from the typical nuisance ordinance,” said Scappoose City Counsel Jeff Bennett.

Nuisance ordinances can be difficult to enforce because the language is often very vague, Bennett said. The purpose of this ordinance was to be as precise as possible and provide a clear road map for law enforcement and city code enforcers.

Greisen, who proposed the ordinance to the council, said the situation was dire with some of the vacant homes in Scappoose. He showed pictures of several interiors; trash was everywhere. In many cases, the utilities have been turned off, but this hasn’t stopped people from using the bathrooms, Greisen said.

“You have rats, you have everything else,” he said.

The houses attract all sorts of trouble, from drug trade and manufacture to prostitution, he added.

“I really like this ordinance,” said Councilor Donna Gedlich. “I think you guys did an excellent job.”

But other councilors were not so ready to approve. Newly elected Councilor Jason Meshell peppered Greisen and Bennett with questions. He was concerned the city was creating bigger bureaucratic problems for itself since, with the vacant buildings ordinance, police and the city would likely have to deal directly with the banks on issues concerning foreclosed homes.

Gedlich proposed approving the ordinance without changes, but none of the other councilors, including Mayor Burge, seemed comfortable enough to do this, and would not provide a second to Gedlich’s motion.