Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008
Increase in fines for violations of housing code recommended
Overcrowded housing also targeted
by Janel Davis | Staff Writer
Fines for housing code infractions would be increased and commercial vehicle parking would be restricted to certain areas, including underused Park and Ride lots, under a long-awaited code enforcement report released this week.
The 74-page report and recommendations, commissioned by County Executive Isiah Leggett and drafted by a Code Enforcement Work Group, stem from a yearlong evaluation of the county's code enforcement regulations and enforcement agencies, such as Permitting Services, police, fire and rescue, and Housing and Community Affairs.
The report addresses concerns from county residents about more frequent violations throughout the county, including overcrowded homes, disabled and abandoned vehicles and inefficient regulation of home-based businesses.
Key to the recommendations is a proposal to increase fines for repeat housing code violators from $500 a day to $750 a day.
"Residents are concerned that portions of the county code are outdated, that enforcement is uneven, that too much time passes between the issuance of a citation and correction of a code violation, and that there is not enough coordination between various county departments," Leggett (D) said in a statement.
The report follows a separate proposal by County Council President Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown to address the problem of commercial vehicle parking in his upcounty district.
He introduced a bill in June that would bar vehicles more than 19 feet long, 8 feet tall, more than 5 tons and with more than a 1-ton capacity from parking along county streets on the same block as a residence, playground, church or school.
Knapp's legislation was criticized by some residents and large vehicle owners for its lack of parking alternatives and its unintended consequences of forcing truckers out of their neighborhoods.
In September, Leggett's task force asked council members to hold off action on Knapp's plan until the report was complete.
The two proposals effectively get to the same point on where the vehicles can and cannot park, said Knapp, after reviewing the report Monday.
The task force recommended that the commercial vehicles be parked in company lots, underused Park and Ride lots, truck stops, privately owned storage facilities or remaining on the street if traffic flow is not a problem.
The task force divides the vehicles into separate "light" and "heavy" commercial vehicle distinctions, and allows a limited number of light vehicles to park in off-street residential areas.
"We looked at the light and heavy vehicle distinctions, too," Knapp said. "Then there was the problem with enforcement. Knowing how thinly stretched police officers are, I'd prefer them out doing the real job of policing instead of counting vehicles."
The report also addresses home-based businesses by recommending issuing citations, instead of just a warning, for violators of the home occupation or health practitioners code provisions.
Registered home occupations could not begin without a county inspection, and violators could have their registrations revoked.
The task force also recommended strengthening residential building permits to require an approved inspection of a one-family dwelling or structure accessory within six months of receiving a building permit. An approved final inspection would be required 18 months after a building permit is issued.
The report does not directly mention the complaints of some county residents regarding immigrants who sometimes crowd into residences designed for one family.
The report does include a policy statement and training guidelines for an inspection group aimed at non-English speakers.
With the report out, the council's Public Safety Committee will discuss both proposals at an upcoming meeting.
Increase fines for repeat housing code violators from $500 a day to $750 a day
Prohibit parking of heavy commercial vehicles, and those 19 feet or longer, in residential areas on-street and off-street
Prohibit parking of recreation vehicles on any public road, with 24-hour loading/unloading exemption
30-day limit for property owners to remove inoperable or unregistered vehicles
Require inspections of
one-family dwellings within six months of issuance
of a building permit; final inspection within 18 months after permit issuance
Expand the use of an automated system to report potential code violations
Improve outreach for limited-English speakers