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City Council moves to address blighted properties

Sometimes it is the seemingly non-controversial agenda item that can best reveal what tensions actually exist in government.

Such was the case this week as the city council voted on a technical ordinance intended to do nothing more than bring city code into compliance with state law.

Bill 1967, which passed unanimously, amends the Boulder City Municipal Code repealing several sections and replacing them with new language. What the changes actually do is create a civil enforcement procedure for “public nuisances” which are defined as conditions on real property including blight, garbage, neglected landscaping, abandoned properties and hazardous buildings.

When a property exists in these circumstances, after a process of notification and possibly appeals, the city can move to what is known as “abatement,” a legal process that allows the city to cure the problem and then charge the property owner for the work. State law allows for this process and Boulder City has laws on the books against such public nuisances. However, state law says that abatement needs to be the end of a process that allows for both notification and civil penalties (i.e., fines) as well as allowing a process for a property owner to appeal said penalties. The Boulder City law was a criminal process which was not in compliance with state law. The result is that the city has been unable to do any abatement in a number of years.

“There is essentially a three-step process of enforcement for a public nuisance,” said City Attorney Brittney Walker. “At first, a person will receive a notice of violation. This is not a fine. This is simply a notice of what the violation is and a time for compliance. If the person does not comply with the notice of violation and bring their property into compliance by the deadline, then the code enforcement officer can write a civil citation to impose a civil fine which would be set by a resolution of the city council.”

Walker went on to describe an appeals process. Staff recommendation was to have hearing officers to hear appeals, but the council opted instead to send appeals to the municipal court, which is allowed under the state law.

Things got interesting when Councilmember Steve Walton began asking questions about the reach of the law, noting that it might be able to cover not only safety and issues of visual blight but also issues of how a property is being used.

“Violations of city codes, ordinances or other adopted policies are also included as public nuisances, in the proposed ordinance, right?” Walton asked of Walker.

Walker confirmed that was correct and Walton continued by noting that one of the prohibited uses was “criminal activity.” “I would like to note that we might consider some additional language that says ‘and/or unlawful.’” He went on to specifically note issues of permitted types of usage and conditional use.

It was never stated, but this seemed to be a reference to a contentious issue within the city about short-term rentals that the council has asked staff to study. Short-term rentals such as AirBnB and VRBO are not currently allowed in Boulder City but there are a number of properties within the city that are regularly offered on those websites.

Walker clarified that this was not the intent of the change to city code and that the phrase “criminal activity” was understood to mean something such as the manufacturing of narcotics.

After the meeting, City Manager Taylour Tedder further clarified the intent.

“This brings Boulder City Code into compliance with state law and provides a civil process of enforcement against public nuisances,” said Tedder. “Our goal is to educate and achieve voluntary compliance, not to punish homeowners.”

On the issue of short-term rentals, he said, “The council directed staff to seek input from the community on short-term rental regulation. The city is in the process of soliciting this input and will bring the issue back before council at a later date.”

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