County May Crack Down On Shoddy Property

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The county is slowing down the momentum over a proposed ordinance to force residents and business owners to clean up their properties.

Terry Smith, the zoning director for the Gila County Community Development office, was directed to develop an ordinance requiring the removal of rubbish, trash, debris and dilapidated buildings.

At a Feb. 24 hearing in Payson, he said he also was directed to "fast track it," and so included an emergency clause that would put it into immediate effect.

Smith said he wanted to slow down the process, so he proposed a third hearing. By the end of the Payson meeting, two more hearings were planned -- one for the residents of Tonto Basin and for those in Young. The final planning and zoning hearing will follow and then it will be put in the hands of the county board of supervisors.

Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin (Dist. 1) said the proposed ordinance started as a way to address the problem of dilapidated buildings in the unincorporated areas.

"It has grown far beyond what was intended," she said.

In addition to the buildings, the proposed ordinance also included the removal of junk/abandoned vehicles, vegetation that could constitute a fire hazard and other materials.

"One person's wildlife habitat is another's wildfire hazard," Martin said.

Terry Smith said several changes were suggested at a Feb. 17 hearing.

"The section on dilapidated buildings had nine subsections and covered a lot of territory. It was suggested the county just adopt the state's definition," Smith said.

Arizona Revised Statute 11-268 defines a dilapidated building as "any real property structure that is in such disrepair or is damaged to the extent that its strength or stability is substantially less than a new building or it is likely to burn or collapse and its condition endangers to life, health safety or property of the public."

Other changes included dropping the several different examples of junk/abandoned vehicles and including an exclusion for classic and antique automobile restoration.

Martin is concerned that the ordinance could give feuding neighbors more ammunition. She also has some practical concerns.

"We don't know how we'll pay for it," she said. "It's costly to tear down a building and transport the debris."

Martin said while the state requires counties to have the ordinance, it can be as benign or as strict as the governing body wants.

The state statute allows for the property owner to be assessed for the costs involved, but there is no guarantee they will be paid.

Martin said eventually such an assessment could lead to a forced sale of the property.

Among the concerns expressed by the residents opposed to the proposal: the invasion of privacy; the fact there are already ordinances to address problems, but they are not enforced.

"I have been here eight years and while we have at least 300 complaints, we were only able to get one person prosecuted," Smith said.

Martin said she is opposed to more government.

"Citizens should be very careful when giving the government their private property rights," she said.

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