Wakefield commission members discuss new blight code
August 13, 2020
By P.J. GLISSON
At a Tuesday evening meeting of the city’s planning commission, members strongly expressed their desire to create a new ordinance that will allow them to address persistent problems with blight and related issues.
“Our city looks terrible,” said commission member Marsha Vestich. “There are so many buildings that should be torn down. There are so many buildings that need painting.”
Mayor Dale White said that, with the city’s current code, it would take several months to resolve already acknowledged issues of blight. “This long and drawn-out process — we need to eliminate it,” he said.
City attorney Ray O’Dea spent much of the meeting explaining how city officials could benefit by adapting the International Property Maintenance Code to suit municipal needs.
“It streamlines the process that we have,” he said.
The attorney said the international code would allow the city to write tickets for noncompliance with new standards. In addition, he said, “There’s a pretty short appeals process.”
Moreover, he said that, if local residents refused to pay their tickets, the cost can be applied to their tax bill.
O’Dea said Bessemer used the international code to create a new maintenance ordinance in 2017. Since then, he said city officials there have been successful in addressing blight and long grass.
He added that Negaunee also adapted the international code, and it helped officials there to demolish an unsafe building efficiently.
According to the attorney, Wakefield officials can incorporate within a new ordinance a variety of government standards relating to codes in building, fire, mechanical, plumbing, fuel, electrical, etc.
Wakefield Building Inspector Butch Saari said he’s mainly concerned with the building code.
O’Dea suggested also seeking input from Bob Blaskowski, who recently was hired as a part-time code enforcement officer for Wakefield.
Vestich asked whether a new ordinance could require residents to paint their structures, and O’Dea said the international code includes a provision for exterior maintenance, including “proper surface coating.”
O’Dea said that incorporating the international standards within a new city ordinance “makes sense to me,” but he emphasized that it is the decision of city officials.
City manager Rob Brown said that no action was needed until he and O’Dea do some initial work on the language of the pending new ordinance.
O’Dea suggested that commission members spend a couple meetings refining a version that works for Wakefield and then refer the new ordinance to the city council for adoption, which will require formal readings and a public hearing.
“You don’t have to worry about getting it perfect,” he said. “It’s an ordinance. You can amend it.”
The mayor said that city officials can use the Bessemer ordinance as a starting point. That document addresses standards of maintenance, safety, sanitation, occupancy, etc.
O’Dea said Bessemer also included an appendix to its ordinance and he advised Wakefield officials to do the same. The Bessemer appendix includes a glossary with items such as wood piles, dangerous trees, garbage and stagnant water.
The attorney said that any current problems that already have been addressed with the existing code will have to be resolved using that code.
The commission’s next regular meeting will be on Sept. 15 at 5:30 p.m. The public is welcome at this virtual session and should call the city at 906-229-5131 for the access code.