Occupants of a Dublin Dr. property have taken care of an extensive list of complaints that had spurred the Cumberland County Health and Safety Standards Board to seek legal action against the owners just a month before.
During the July 8 meeting of the board, County Attorney Philip Burnett said, “Currently, there is no way I can sue these people.”
He emailed property occupants a detailed list of problems identified — fuel tanks on the property, tires and car parts scattered around.
“But, that’s not the way it is anymore. It had been cleaned up to the point that I did not see anything that was a safety hazard,” he said. “There was no odors. No mosquito issues. The grass had been mowed.”
Burnett said that at this time, the property no longer violates health or safety standards set by the county.
Last month, the committee authorized Burnett to file suit to enforce a $50 per day civil fine. Such cases are head in Cumberland County General Sessions Court. If the suit were successful, the court could order the sale of the property to satisfy the fine.
The committee took no further action on the property, electing to watch and wait to ensure the property continues to meet standards.
Joe Koester said the committee had visited the property when the complaint began and taken multiple photos to provide the attorney. When he returned June 28, the occupants were working with a front-end loader.
“They moved a lot of stuff. They picked up the garbage in front of the house and cut the weeds in front of the house,” said Koester.
“Admittedly, to most people, it still looks like a mess. But there’s a degree of mess.”
Neighbors said the property still created issues for the neighborhood and accused the occupants of moving debris and trash to adjoining property they do not own.
“They cleaned up a little bit. They still got a lot to do to make it look livable,” said one of the neighbors.
Board member Tom Isham agreed.
“They’ve not satisfied me,” he said. “There’s still a mess out there. And we’re just kicking this can down the road.”
A representative of the Breckinridge Property Owners Association said dues on the property had not been paid in five years.
“We feel like they’re just rearranging things and, when this all dies down, it’s going to go back like it was,” she said.
Board member and county commissioner Nancy Hyder said the POA has a greater ability to regulate property within their boundaries.
Hyder said, “If it’s a POA, they’re the ones that have the restrictions. Why have them if you don’t go by them? We’ve helped as much as we can help you. And it does look better.”
Burnett said the county can enact more regulations that go beyond just health and safety. Few counties in the state choose to regulate property much more extensively, he said.
The HSSB is staffed by volunteer board members who advise the county mayor on complaints. It has a $5,000 annual budget.
“If that is the will of the people. It all costs money,” Burnett said. “The more regulations and enforcement you want, it’s just going to cost more money because pretty soon you’re going to want someone on staff that does that.”
Hyder said, “This has turned into a part-time job right now.”
On July 22, the board tabled further action on a complaint for a property on Grace Hill Dr.
“It looks like they’re starting to clean,” Hyder said. “It is not cleaned up, by any means. But it appears they are trying.”
The panel agreed to table any further action to allow the property owner and occupant time to complete their clean-up.
The committee also discussed their procedures that require a complaint be signed by at least three neighboring property owners whose property is within 150 yards of the property in question.
“We started out just doing dilapidated, abandoned homes,” Hyder said. “Now we’ve got debris. And we’re getting back into POAs. It seems like our business has picked up.”
Hyder said there had been discussion of extending that 150-yard limit. Koester said rural areas may need a higher number of yards.
Rebecca Stone, 3rd District commissioner, said extending the boundary for complaints could help keep from pitting neighbors against neighbors. But she did not want POAs to attempt to use the committee to solve their problems.
“The county cannot regulate POA requirements,” she said. “They’ve got to meet the standards set by the commission, or it really shouldn’t come before this committee.”
Burnett reminded everyone the complaints are public documents and owners of a property with a complaint lodged against it could request the complaint form. He said the panel could develop a method for POAs to lodge complaints, though he said there needed to be some checks and balances on that.
“This committee could be abused,” he cautioned.
POAs have the ability to file suit if properties are not kept to required standards, but that does require the association to spend money on legal fees.
Isham said POA members were also county taxpayers.
“It’s still the county’s obligation to get those dumps cleaned up,” he said.
Isham told the audience, however, that one of the most common complaints — that a property was impacting neighboring property values — was not something the committee could address.
Isham moved to increase the distance to 300 yards, supported by Koester. The motion was approved and will go to the Cumberland County Commission for consideration.