County To Trash 'Junk Ordinance'

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The county junk ordinance is on its way to being thrown in the trash.

County supervisors proposed the ordinance, which falls under zoning laws, to clean up private properties in unincorporated areas of the county back in February.

Since then, citizens have voiced concerns on both sides of the issue while supervisors have struggled to find solutions to enforce violations.

Following suggestions by residents, the county supervisors have decided to address littered property with existing rules and regulations through the civil courts.

If all goes as planned, these zoning violations will be taken out of the criminal courts.

The Gila County Board of Supervisors has given Terry Smith, zoning director of the county community development office, to amend the county code to create a civil hearing system.

"Currently complaints are handled under the criminal code," Smith said. "To expedite things we are looking at changing it to have them go to a hearing officer instead of a Superior Court judge."

He said he is basing the changes on the enforcement model used in Pinal County.

"I spent some time there (recently to observe) and it works very smoothly," Smith said.

Joe Mendoza, director of Gila County Community Development, said about 20 complaints have gone through the court in Payson.

"We try to negotiate before it gets to court," he said. "It's generally a lengthy and costly process.

"We're hoping the civil process will move things more quickly with some actual time limits established to make things more efficient."

In addition to expediting the resolution of zoning violations, Smith said the change will also eliminate the need to implement the controversial "junk ordinance."

Earlier this year, the county considered passing a new ordinance requiring the removal of rubbish, trash, debris and dilapidated buildings on property. The directive to address the rubbish problem came from fire officials wanting to reduce the dangers associated with abandoned buildings.

The changes in the code will implement penalties for violations, establish a hearing office and its rules of procedure, and create the authority to impose fines and collect fees, he said. The fines can be between $100 and $700.

The proposed process starts when a citizen makes a complaint about a zoning violation(s) on another's property.

  • The property is inspected by a county planning and zoning field officer.
  • If the complaint is determined to be valid, the property owner is notified to correct the problem.
  • A follow-up inspection is held and if work is in progress, the property owner can be given an extension.
  • If no action has been taken, the matter goes to the hearing officer.
  • An "arraignment" is held and the property owner has the option of claiming responsibility for the problem, or declaring they are not responsible.
  • If the property owner claims responsibility, a formal hearing is set in which testimony is taken and a ruling made by the hearing officer.
  • The property owner has the right to appeal the matter to the Gila County Board of Supervisors.
  • The matter can still be referred to Superior Court once it has been before the supervisors.

"It will take a couple of months to fully develop the proposal," Smith said.

The amendments to the code and accompanying resolutions will first be presented to the county planning and zoning commission for its review and recommendations. Once the commission is satisfied with the change, it will then forward the matter to the supervisors for a final decision.

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