Property maintenance code proposed in Prairie Township

By Dedra Cordle

Staff Writer

Should an exterior maintenance code be expanded to include residential properties? That is a question that is currently being discussed in Prairie Township.

The board of trustees initially adopted an exterior property maintenance code in September of 2022. It was designed to address the exterior of commercial and single-family residential properties.

According to trustee Rod Pritchard, the maintenance code was instrumental in allowing the township to take action at the Galloway Village apartment complex.

“I believe that apartment complex, which was designated as being unfit for human habitation by the Franklin County Board of Health, would still be standing there today if it were not for that maintenance code,” he said.

Since its implementation two years ago, the township has only had to issue one citation at all of the commercial and single-family residential properties inspected.

Administrator James Jewell said that low number can be attributed to the township working with the property owners.

“If we came to the property owners and let them know there was an issue with the exterior of the property, they worked with us to come into compliance,” said Jewell. “We have had this (maintenance code on the books) for over a year now and the only citation that we have had to issue so far was at Galloway Village.”

Because of the successful implementation of the maintenance code for commercial and single-family residential properties, township officials have been mulling the expansion of the code to include residential properties.

Pritchard said he knows it is a topic that may rankle some in the community.

“When we (the board of trustees) started to take this on, we knew that it was going to be a difficult issue for some members in our community,” he said. “But when I ran for election, one of the number one things people wanted was a property maintenance code because they see the community going downhill in terms of the upkeep of homes and the physical structures.”

He said the implementation of an exterior property maintenance code is one way the township can address those blighted, deteriorating, or unsafe properties.

“I understand this proposal might not be a popular one, but we have to discuss and debate the implementation of a maintenance code for our residential properties too.”

The ability to have that debate and discussion on the topic is what brought more than 50 residents out to the Prairie Township Community Center on March 27.

At the community open house, township officials shared the exterior property maintenance standards featured in the proposal. They also shared the fines that could be incurred if residential property owners are not in compliance.

The proposed exterior property maintenance code for residential properties is similar to the adopted maintenance code for the exterior of commercial and single-family residential properties. According to zoning officials, all residential properties must be structurally sound. This includes foundations that are free of holes and cracks, proper building drainage, and intact doors and windows. It also includes proper roofing, gutters, chimneys and porches, as well as proper maintenance of trees, shrubs, compost bins and fencing.

The proposed maintenance code will also not permit vehicles to be parked on yards, especially ones that are inoperable or otherwise considered to be junk vehicles.

Much like the exterior property maintenance code that is currently on the books, any violation of the code shall be punishable with an unclassified civil fine of $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second violation, and $1,000 for the third violation and subsequent violations. Anyone who is given a violation notice can request a hearing before an appeals board.

Township zoning assistant Cassady Critchfield said they will work with residential property owners to address any visible violations and help them come into compliance before issuing citations, assessing fines, or taking them to court, if needed.

“We will leave what we call a courtesy tag on or near the front door to give our residents time to contact us,” she said. “Some homeowners might not even know there is a violation and so we don’t want to jump straight into that process if we do not have to.”

The township will also send a notification through the mail to residents should a violation be found.

Several residents at the meeting said they were worried that the exterior property maintenance code proposal could eventually transform into a township sanctioned homeowner association (HOA).

Officials said that is not the intention of this proposal.

“This is not an HOA,” Critchfield explained. “We are not here to tell you that you need to use a certain material for your fence or what color you need to paint your house. This proposal is to establish a minimum standard for maintaining residential properties. It’s to avoid any blighting effects, any substandard maintenance that may have a negative impact on property values, to eliminate any hazardous conditions and also provide for the enforcement and the penalties for holding the property to those standards.”

Residential property owner John Griffith said he believes this proposal to be an overreach by the government. He also stated that the township zoning department was effective enough without having to resort to the implementation of an exterior property maintenance code for residential properties.

“We don’t need any more rules, we’ve got enough rules,” he said. “I’m begging these trustees to squash this thing dead in the head. We have a good zoning department and they can handle what we’ve got right now.”

Resident Tony Hall said that while he agreed with the assessment that the township zoning department was effective, he disagreed with the assessment that an exterior property maintenance code for residential properties was not needed.

“I had a neighbor move next door to me about two years ago and if you had seen what happened from May to September, it was just unbelievable,” he said. “The first thing he did was park an old camper right next to my privacy fence and had a guy living in it and he was (urinating) in a bucket outside there. The entire yard, front to back, became a hoarding situation and it was just insane, drawing rats and raccoons to the area.”

Hall said thanks to the efforts of the zoning department, they were able to remedy the situation. However, he said conditions in residential areas should never get so bad that it becomes a problem for everyone else living nearby.

“If you had a neighbor like I had…it was really bad. I was ready to almost end up in jail,” said Hall.

He said that while he agrees that some government officials can be overly aggressive with trying to maintain all codes, he does not believe that is the intention of this zoning department.

“I know a lot of these people and I don’t think they are just going to go out there and just nitpick at your property.”

Resident Sandy Maggard said that while she can see the pros and cons of having an exterior property maintenance code for residential properties, she cannot help but think of how expensive it is to improve properties.

“We have a lot of people out here in this township, a lot of senior citizens, who are on a limited or fixed income,” she said. “I just don’t know how fair it is to order someone to fix their properties if they cannot afford to do so.”

Jewell said there are several organizations that could help residential property owners improve their properties. He added that the township could work with its legal advisors to establish a home improvement program for some of the lower income residents should the proposal be adopted.

Because this was an informal meeting for the community, the trustees did not act on the proposal. Jewell said the township will take the community feedback that was given on a variety of topics and revise the maintenance code draft proposal. It will then be given to the trustees for consideration.

“When the draft proposal is presented to them, they could make their own revisions, they could decide to host another open house with those new revisions, or they could table the whole process,” said Jewell. “This will not be decided overnight, or even within the next few weeks.”

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