Caroline commissioners pass noise bill, kill blighted properties bill
DENTON — The Caroline County commissioners at their meeting Tuesday, April 18, declined to take action on a proposed bill that would have addressed blighted and neglected properties in the county, effectively killing it.
Commissioners said it was too broad, and directed county staff to begin working on a new draft that met the more targeted goals they had in mind.
Another bill, allowing law and code enforcement officers to handle complaints about amplified noise that can be plainly heard in someone else’s house, was unanimously passed, and will go into effect Friday, June 2.
The bill addressing neglected properties was introduced in February. At a public hearing April 4, some residents spoke in favor of it, saying eyesore properties bring down the values of those around them, while other residents were opposed to it, worried it would erode owners’ rights to do what they want with their own property.
The bill would have created a Nuisance Abatement Board to hear complaints about properties that might constitute a public nuisance.
The board would have decided whether to dismiss complaints or declare properties a public nuisance, and would have had the authority to issue an abatement order or take other legal action, including ordering the property to be closed for up to a year.
The bill provided procedures for notifying property owners of a complaint and holding public hearings on those complaints, and said the Caroline County Department of Planning and Codes would have had to prove that a public nuisance existed and the owner, lessee, resident or agent had failed or refused to cooperate with attempts to abate it.
Vice President Larry Porter said he did not like that the bill included occupied houses.
“It was not my intention to get to a point where we’d take a home someone’s living in,” Porter said. “The point was abandoned, blighted properties, owned by banks, in foreclosure, that need to be boarded up, or the grass cut. That’s the extent I’m willing to go.”
“This became all-inclusive,” said Commissioner Wilbur Levengood. “That’s not where I wanted to go either.”
Caroline County Department of Planning and Codes Director Katheleen Freeman said the proposed bill was complaint-driven, meaning no action would be taken on a property until someone complained about it. Porter asked if the depar tment gets many calls about occupied homes.
“We do get some calls about occupied houses that look similar to abandoned ones,” Freeman said.
Freeman also pointed out the bill did not necessarily call for a blighted property to be taken over, but the nuisance abated.
The county’s building code already has an unsafe structures ordinance, said County Administrator Ken Decker.
“The unsafe structures ordinance in the building code protects occupants from the structure,” Decker said. “(The proposed bill) would protect the general public from a property, by addressing those that are devaluing others.”
Commissioners said they would like to schedule a work session soon to begin working on new legislation.