Where did this nuisance language come from?!

Last week the Minnetrista city council took up the matter of modifying its nuisance ordinance primarily because of a single property on the same road a council member lives on. Several council meetings on this property over the last few years always ended in agreement, by most, that this was an isolated occurrence, not impacting the community-at-large, and with council members not willing to spend money on attorneys to rewrite an ordinance that had served the city well and had provided resolution to virtually all nuisance complaints in the city with the exception of this one. The property is located on a large parcel in rural Minnetrista.

The new nuisance ordinance now being drafted by attorneys from Kennedy & Graven includes a section titled “Additional Public Nuisances Defined.” In a memo from Kennedy & Graven to the council it states this “ordinance tracks closely to the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) model nuisance ordinance” and included the following additional public nuisance definition:

“The public exposure of persons having a contagious disease or condition which
endangers public health, safety or welfare.”

Yes, you read that correctly. The League of Minnesota Cities is quietly slipping in municipal control and enforcement over where Minnesota residents can freely go and giving cities authority to decide what amounts to a contagious disease or condition. A common cold could be construed as a contagious disease or condition and punishable as a violation of the city’s ordinance. The City of Medina, who also employ Kennedy & Graven as their legal counsel, have already adopted these new “nuisances” into their city code.

It appears the Minnetrista council was uncomfortable with some of the language provided by Kennedy & Graven and will likely remove this contagious disease language from the new Minnetrista ordinance. It should, however, give Minnetrista residents pause that the city’s law firm, who should be representing residents, is attempting to include the LMC’s invasive language into ordinances for cities it represents.

Readers can see the draft nuisance ordinance on page 44 of the March 15 work session packet.

Monday’s nuisance property ordinance discussion update

Something to understand is the Minnetrista city council would not be having this discussion but for a single property that has been an annoyance to those that live on Deer Creek Road or drive by it regularly. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem but it should put the problem in perspective.

During our work session April 6 I asked how many properties had been the subject of this kind of complaint and our Director of Public Safety answered

nuisance prop
Example – not subject property

“very few” and that most of the issues with them had been resolved satisfactorily, with the exception of this one. When pressed about the number of properties and complaints I asked if it would be fair to say there have been approximately two properties that have been the subject of complaints in the rural areas, and the answer was affirmative, that it would be fair to say there had been approximately two.

Note that most housing developments are governed by their own homeowners associations’ rules regarding these matters. Rural areas, obviously, don’t have HOAs.

Modifying our current ordinance dealing with nuisance properties requires hiring an attorney (Minnetrista does not have its own staff attorney) and would likely cost Minnetrista taxpayers a tidy sum. My question is: If our current city code has been sufficient to resolve our issues with nuisance properties in the past and this is a relatively isolated instance (i.e., not a community-wide problem) should we be spending taxpayer dollars on it?

There is an abatement clause in our current nuisance ordinance that provides for the city to give notice to a property owner of its intention to abate (remove) the nuisance. My understanding is the city has not done that.

This matter was not resolved at the work session and staff was given direction to come back to the council with their ideas at a future work session.

 

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Minnetrista nuisance ordinance discussion April 6, 5:30pm

The Minnetrista city council will be discussing nuisance properties at it’s work session Monday evening, April 6, 2020 at 5:30pm. Work sessions do not provide for public comment but the public may “attend” the teleconference (council is meeting online during the pandemic) by dialing into the meeting at the number below. Here is the April 6 Work Session meeting packet to see what is being discussed.Work session Nuisance ordinanceND

 

Minnetrista to consider nuisance property ordinance

The Minnetrista city council will be discussing the possibility of adopting a nuisance property ordinance at an upcoming council work session due to a property that has been the subject of complaints over the years. I am not necessarily opposed to one but have some concerns to be addressed:

  • The difficulty of establishing a definition of a “nuisance.” One person’s art is another person’s junk and the subjective nature of prohibiting certain things on private property is inherently problematic.
  • Making a nuisance property ordinance applicable city-wide to all properties requires uniform language. It is literally impossible to take into account the geographic landscape of each property in the largely rural areas where some may have trees/hills obscuring the sight of prohibited things and others without trees or hills are at a disadvantage and would be more scrutinized. HOAs have their own restrictions that may cause confusion.
  • Burdening the city with complaints from neighbors that just don’t get along for a variety of reasons. Far too often people aren’t willing to resolve issues with their neighbors face to face and turn to the city as a first, rather than a last, resort.

junk yard
Example, not subject property

I sympathize with the residents I’ve heard from and have driven by the property in question which is, indeed, unsightly and looks like a junk yard. If I lived next door I wouldn’t be happy either.

However, if the majority of the council wants an ordinance I believe there must be a process to ensure property owners are protected from frivolous complaints. I would suggest the following:

  1. Require the Complainant to obtain at least three signatures of other property owners within a quarter mile of the property detailing precisely what the nuisance items are and what the remedy requested is (remove, store out-of-sight). This step would help ensure it’s a real neighborhood concern, rather than a personal quarrel, and warrants the city’s involvement.
  2. Once signatures are obtained a demand letter from the city could be mailed to, or served on, the respondent giving the property owner notice and timeframe for remedy before being penalized with a fine. Provisions for anonymity should be available for Complainants.

As far as defining what a nuisance is, as long as the above process is in place, a broad definition referencing what a “reasonable person” would consider an unsightly eyesore that impairs their ability to enjoy their property or affects the valuation of their property, would seem reasonable. I’m not a fan of setting limits on types of items or numbers of vehicles, trailers, farm implements, etc.  There are just too many variables to consider.

Any time the city decides to regulate what property owners can or can’t do we must weigh the consequences of any restrictions on the rights of private property owners vs. the benefits to the community at large. Restrictions always have costs to one group and benefits to another so we must take great care in weighing consequences to both.