The Billings City Council wants more time to tinker with language before deciding how to update the city’s nuisance ordinance.
Wyeth Friday, Planning and Community Services director, said during Monday’s council work session that changes proposed by staff will give code enforcement officers more tools when they need to take nuisance enforcement — such as a deteriorating house — to court.
“We have had trouble in the past with the way the code is written,” he said. “This is more straightforward and will make our process smoother.”
The changes, Friday explained, will allow code enforcement officers to use a number of factors — such as peeling paint, broken windows, a dead tree, unsecured doors or a hole in the roof — to make their enforcement cases, which will continue to be complaint-driven.
But council members said they want to study the proposed changes in Section 18-300 of the Billings Municipal Code before deciding. They also seek input from the public.
"I'm concerned that we will have a standard for property maintenance, and if you can't do it, we are going to come in and start harassing you," said Councilman Shaun Brown.
The council was to have considered the proposed changes during its Oct.23 business meeting, but with Councilmen Mike Yakawich and Larry Brewster volunteering to help staff and interested residents make additional changes, council consideration will come at a later, undetermined date.
Yakawich said the conversation for updating the code began with one of his Ward 1 constituents.
"We are addressing abandoned and unoccupied houses," he said. "This will give code enforcement (officers) a little more teeth."
Councilman Chris Friedel said he too wanted to take some time before updating the code.
"(A public nuisance) may be a danger to the community, but why are you on this person's property?" he asked. "Who are we to tell people what to do with their property?"
A decision whether to grant WC Commercial LLC $1.5 million in tax increment financing to help renovate the former James F. Battin Federal Courthouse, now known as the Stillwater Building, is scheduled for Oct. 23.
“We are getting more projects than we have dollars,” said Greg Krueger, development director for the Downtown Billings Alliance, speaking on behalf the DBA board’s recommendation to approve the funding. “We don’t want to over-commit, but we also don’t want to pass over a project that won’t happen if we don’t help them.”
Most of the TIF money, to be paid over three years, will go toward exterior renovation, he said. The owner has already spent about $4 million on asbestos removal and another $1 million for non-abatement demolition. Renovation on the 165,000 square foot building is planned for completion by December 2018.
WC Commercial currently pays about $80,000 annually in property taxes; with renovation and enough tenants in the five-story building, that figure could be as high as $300,000 annually, Krueger told the council.
“The goal is to bring that up to as high level as possible,” Krueger said. “That can only be done by private investment.”
Quentin Eggert, president of EEC, the project’s general contractor, said the Yellowstone County Commission has ordered an appraisal of the building’s third floor. “There’s nothing signed yet, and they can’t spend more (on purchasing a floor) than the appraised value.”
He said he expects to know more about the county’s interest in the building by next week.