What’s blight? City Council takes no action on blight rules

NEW ULM — What constitutes a blight in the City of New Ulm? This was the topic of discussion at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The councilors accepted a report from the blight committee, which included a few potential changes to the ordinance.

The blight committee was appointed earlier in the year consisting of Councilors Larry Mack and Dave Christian, Police Chief Myron Wieland, Fire Chief Paul Macho, Community Development Director Dave Schnobrich and Building Inspector Ellwood Zabel.

City Attorney Roger Hippert said the committee had met three times and was bringing the report to the council for review. None of the changes suggested were being officially recommended at this time. Hippert and the council made it clear no official change to the blight ordinance was being decided at this time.

Early on the committee decided against making recommendations regarding aesthetic questions. Hippert said there will not be a city employee inspecting houses for an acceptable paint-chip ratio. The focus of the committee was on safety and storage issues.

Changes the committee was considering included a fine for repeat ordinance violators. A property owner served multiple nuisance violation notices within a continuous 60-month period could be charged additional administrative fees. A second notice results in a $100 fine, a third notice in $200, and a fourth in $400.

Other committee suggestion would require all motor vehicles and trailers to be parked on a paved or gravel surface. Lawfully operated garages and motor vehicle repair businesses would not be allowed to store inoperable vehicles or parts of vehicles outside an enclosed structure or opaque fence for more than 15 calendar days in any 12 month period.

The committee wanted to address the multiple locations in New Ulm with inoperable vehicles on display. Some businesses have argued these vehicles are part of the inventory, but have not moved them in years.

Hippert admitted this was a sensitive subject, and the committee wanted to consider the needs of the businesses while addressing the blight.

One concern is, when implementing a new ordinance, certain properties would face a financial burden to meet storage regulations.

Christian said he and the committee had reservations about recommending these changes because of the financial burden. This was one of the reasons no formal recommendation was coming before the council. The committee wants to keep working to refine the ordinance.

Christian said he received numerous calls on this issue. Two of the callers were concerned with the cost of bringing their property to code, and others were concerned with parking. An individual maintained their property but kept a boat on their lawn, which could be a violation of the ordinance.

Hippert said another problem the committee faced was the struggle between setting fair rules for homes that were dilapidated because the owner could not afford to repair verses owners who can afford the repairs but have abandoned the property.

Councilor Les Schultz said these suggestions were only part of the report to the council. The public was still able to give input to the committee if they wished.

Councilor Lisa Fischer asked if it would be possible to have a public comment period at a future council meeting to better direct the blight committee.

The council was supportive of the idea. It was suggested a comment period be held before the next committee meeting.

In other news, the council adopted an amendment to the private swimming pool ordinance. The ordinance addresses concerns of small children walking into pools and drowning.

Many cities have ordinances that address safety requirements for outdoor pools. After reviewing various regulations from different communities, an ordinance was drafted and presented to the council.

The ordinance defines a pool as anything with a depth capacity of more than 24 inches at any point and a total volume in excess of 5,000 gallons. Pools meeting this definition must be completely enclosed with a fence at least five feet in height. A building permit is required for all above-ground or in-ground private residential swimming pools.

A pool with a depth of less than 24 inches was not considered an extreme hazard and would not require the five-foot fence. In addition, a temporary inflatable pool that contained less than 5,000 gallons was exempt from the fence and permit requirement. For comparison, a pool that is 33-inches deep with a 16-foot diameter would have a water capacity slightly under 5,000 gallons.

A public hearing on the proposed 2018 Surface Reconstruction Project was held. The streets included in the project are three blocks of 2nd South Street, three blocks of 3rd South Street, two blocks of 6th South Street, three blocks of 11th South Street and one block of 17th North Street. The estimated project cost $429,748. The estimate of the total amount to be assessed is $95,040.

The city received no written comments on the projects. During the meeting Ted Roach asked if underground pipe work was part of the reconstruction on 3rd South Street.

City Engineer Steve Koehler said the city is not doing anything with sanitary sewer, water or gas lines because this is a resurfacing project. He said if crews need to replace pipes, it will be done during this time.

After the hearing, the council unanimously approved moving forward with the resurfacing project.