The City Council is set to vote on a broad revision and expansion of Fredericksburg's laws against neighborhood nuisances.
The revisions were motivated in large part by complaints from residents in neighborhoods bordering the University of Mary Washington. They pressed city leaders to deal more strictly with problem properties related to the activities of student tenants living in rented neighborhood housing.
The revised nuisance ordinance arose out of a series of meetings between the Assistant City Manager and staff in several city departments, including the police, the Planning Department and Building and Development Services.
"Those meetings generated changes to Code enforcement operations, including the identification of residential addresses with numerous Code enforcement responses and the sharing of information across City departments," reads a City Council memo accompanying the revisions.
The City Attorney's office also reviewed the city's existing laws against neighborhood nuisances. The city's existing nuisance laws were compared with similar benchmark legislation in the cities of Norfolk and Lynchburg.
The City Council, along with a vocal chorus of neighborhood associations, demanded that the revisions penalize landlords for the actions of their tenants.
The measure does a number of things to streamline the process of nuisance abatement and to clarify nuisance laws already on the books.
Regulations pertaining to weeds, trash and inoperable vehicles will be set aside as a single, separate city code chapter. Currently, laws regulating litter, lawns and derelict vehicles are strewn across multiple code chapters.
This does not include noise violations, which the memo notes "are different because they relate to the behavior of human beings." Noise violations are a criminal offense and police are allowed to handle the problem immediately as opposed to going through a
The law also expands the definition of nuisance behaviors. Current laws only prohibit accumulated trash and overgrown weeds. The revised ordinance lists a number of new prohibited conditions:
• stagnant water.
• open storage of junk and building materials when there is no ongoing construction.
• Obstruction of sidewalks and streets.
• Unfenced lots bordering a sidewalk or street with a dangerous difference in the level of the street or sidewalk and the lot.
• Allowing conditions for rats, mice, snakes and other vermin to shelter on your property.
• Unsecured vacant or derelict buildings.
The revisions also create a general law prohibiting nuisances. Giving the measure teeth are a set of escalating penalties ranging from $50 for a first violation to $3,000 in maximum civil penalties if the nuisance isn't addressed.
Violators of the nuisance laws will receive a notice describing the infraction and the steps necessary to abate it. Those who may find a nuisance notice posted on their door can ask for a second opinion from city staff at an "informal" appeal hearing. The decision of this officer is final, according to the law. Any further disagreement at this point would be handled through the courts.
If the owner refuses to clear the nuisance, the city will step in and clear it on its own and stick the property owners with a bill for the work.
The measure goes before City Council tonight during their regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.