The Billings City Council gave its unanimous approval Monday night to an ordinance that will force the owners of boarded-up buildings to make the structures look habitable.
It also cleared the way for chickens. Its final vote on the contentious issue means city residents can legally possess up to six backyard hens as of Oct. 10.
The vote on the abandoned building ordinance will have to be followed by a second vote on Sept. 24. If passed then, the ordinance would take effect 30 days later. After that, the owners of abandoned buildings would have 180 days to replace boards with tight-fitting doors and windows.
The new ordinance would apply to all buildings, meaning currently boarded-up structures would not be grandfathered in and exempted from the new law. If cited for violating the ordinance, a property owner would have 30 days to voluntarily comply.
If no action were taken, the city could have the work done on the building and the cost of the project would be added to the owner’s property tax bill. Violators could also be subject to a civil penalty of $300, rising to $500 for second and subsequent offenses.
Marion Dozier, a former City Council member and former chairwoman of the South Side Task Force, brought the issue to the city’s attention and worked with the Planning Department to draft the ordinance. She praised Planning Director Candi Beaudry for her work on the issue, saying that boarded-up houses attracted vagrants and graffiti and inevitably led to lowered property values. In turn, she was praised for her work by council members Jim Ronquillo and Angela Cimmino.
The vote on chickens involved the second and final reading on a pair of ordinances — one changing city codes to allow backyard hens and the other establishing regulations governing the raising of chickens.
Dave Klein, the animal shelter supervisor, was asked by Mayor Tom Hanel if he had enough resources to handle calls involving chickens.
“It’s new,” he answered. “It’s going to be interesting.”
If there is an increase in demand, he said, one remedy might be to raise the cost of an annual permit, which is set at $25 in the new ordinance.
The vote on the main ordinance to allow backyard hens was approved on a 6-4 vote, with Jani McCall absent. “No” votes were cast by Hanel, Cimmino, Denis Pitman and Mark Astle.
The council also voted to give Public Works Director Dave Mumford authority to pursue the use of eminent domain to purchase 2.56 acres of land near the city’s Chapple Reservoir on the west side of Clearview Drive, just above the Mormon Temple on the far West End.
Mumford said the city has been trying to reach an agreement with landowner Sheldon Eaton for three years. If the city does use eminent domain, Mumford said, it would still have to work with Eaton on reaching a fair price for the land, and a judge would have to approve the final sale price.
The land is needed to build a badly needed reservoir to service the West End, Mumford said. The city recently had to deny an annexation request because it could not have brought water to the property in question, he said.
In other action, the council agreed to sell a small parcel of city-owned property at 1048 Grand Ave., the site of a former Dairy Queen building. It will be sold to McDonald’s USA, which submitted a high bid of $105,000. Mumford said the corporation plans to use the property for expanded parking at its McDonald’s restaurant next door at 1046 Grand Ave.