County debates building codes

2010-10-08T00:00:00Z 2011-01-01T14:08:58Z County debates building codesJOE O’SULLIVAN Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
October 08, 2010 12:00 am  • 

CASPER — A few houses down from the intersection with H Street, a North Park Street lot sits empty. Lumpy dirt traces the footprint where a house once stood. A large recreational vehicle is parked along one side of the lot, near another house. Back on H Street, a Casper city code enforcement vehicle lumbers by.

Robert Koschene said he didn’t want the home he once owned to be torn down. Casper city staff members said he had three years to avoid demolition.

The now-demolished home, one of four razed properties the City Council considered at a meeting earlier this week, sparked a discussion among council members about how to handle code enforcement for blighted properties. A handful of council members debated the merits of the building code, and how it should be applied in such situations.

Council members Keith Goodenough and Stephanie Boster voted against three liens approved by the council to cover costs for demolitions on South Conwell Street, East G Street and South Nebraska Avenue. Both council members cited discomfort with the type of law used and the timeline over which it was applied. Consideration of the lien on Koschene’s former property has been postponed until Nov. 16.

Goodenough said the building codes come from a generic set of minimum standards that cities can use as their own, rather than locally written building codes — which Casper does not have.

“We’re creating a uniform code across the country in a variety of ways without local input,” Goodenough said.

He and Boster both said they believed property owners should have more time to be notified if buildings they owned were going to be torn down.

“Here, it doesn’t look like these individuals had enough opportunity to comment or appeal,” Boster said.

Those remarks prompted support for the city action from other council members.

“Either you’re violating the codes or you’re not violating the codes,” Councilman Glenn Januska said. “If there are issues with the code, we should address them, but without liens, taxpayers will be footing the bill.”

Councilwoman Kim Holloway said she should would like to revisit the idea of establishing local building codes, which were briefly considered earlier this year after the KC Apartments were shut in 2009 due to serious code violations.

“It’s striking that when (code enforcement) came up regarding rental properties, the council balked,” Holloway said.

The council discussion came out of nowhere, said April Getchius, the city’s community development director. The council had agreed a few months back to apply liens to the properties in what is a routine city function, Getchius said.

Demolishing buildings — which she said were not necessarily houses but garages or other structures — is sometimes the only way for the city to address serious code violations.

“Sometimes we have to (demolish) because kids are getting in them, or rats,” Getchius said.

Liens can ease the burden of low-income residents by not forcing the city to ask for that money up front, she said. The liens, all for amounts between $3,500 and $6,000, will allow the city to recoup money spent for demolition when the properties are sold.

Four structures in the city have been demolished in the past year, according to Getchius.

Koschene, 47, said he sold the property shortly before — and because — the city would decide to raze it. At Tuesday’s meeting, he said the city was trying to charge him for the demolition costs. Getchius said the postponed public hearing will give city staff members time to research the property owner, but City Code Enforcement Officer Shelly LeClere said Koschene’s buyer will ultimately be responsible for the lien.

Koschene had between 2006 and 2009 to address the problems the city had found, LeClere said. The city does not take demolition projects lightly and Koschene never appealed the demolition or tried to improve the property, she said.

In fact, it was the opposite.

“He evaded us quite a bit,” LeClere said.

Contact Joe O’Sullivan at joe.osullivan@trib.com or  307-266-0639.

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