- Last Updated on Thursday, 19 July 2012 17:28
- Published on Thursday, 19 July 2012 17:28
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It was nearly 20 years ago that the Westmoreland Supervisors adopted a nuisance ordinance intended to rid the county’s residential areas of unsightly structures in immediate danger of collapse, abandoned motor vehicles and other kinds of unwanted clutter.
Prior to that ordinance’s adoption, the issues were bitterly debated in public hearings that were widely publicized. The ordinance the local government adopted has not been easy to enforce.
On July 9 Michael A. Bonacci addressed the Westmoreland county board. He was sent by the Ebb Tide Beach Community Association to get an answer to a set of nagging questions “relative to neighborhood code violations and the county response to said violations.”
Bonacci gave the Supervisors copies of the correspondence that had been collected since July 2011 concerning offending Ebb Tide Beach properties where ordinance violations have occurred with no abatement.
“This journey began last July, but we’ve been trying to understand the role of the county in something we’ve been trying to get resolved ever since 2001,” the man began.
“The problem we have is getting worse and worse.”
In addition to the file of correspondence between the subdivision and the county government, Bonacci distributed photographs of the properties where nuisance ordinance violations reportedly exist. Lots were cluttered with inoperable vehicles, boats, tractors and trash, he then explained.
“Conditions are deteriorating,” the subdivision’s spokesperson related. He noted repeated visits county land use employees made to problem properties and the ongoing lack of resolution.
One property was a particular problem and Bonacci advised that the subdivision had been in communications with the County Attorney when Land Use staff could not impose a remedy. Inaction, he then related, negatively impacts neighboring properties.
The Supervisors listened as Bonacci shared a history of failed efforts going back as far as that community association’s 2001 complaints to past Westmoreland County Zoning Administrator Trent Funkouser. Board Chairman Darryl Fisher then addressed the subject.
“The county is at fault,” Fisher told Bonacci. We try to go to the Nth degree before we force compliance. We still have to follow the steps spelled out in the legal system. The zoning department tries to prod the offender to do the right thing. It’s only when that office has exhausted its efforts to work with folks that this county goes to court.”
“This is the first I’ve heard of the problem and that isn’t good,” said District 3 Supervisor Dorothy Tate.
“I’ve been aware of this problem for a long time,” District 4 Supervisor Woody Hynson told Bonacci. I have to accept the blame. The previous county attorney explained the difficulties with bringing a court action, but I am still ashamed because it has been too long and nothing has been done.
“I won’t sit here and make excuses because there is no excuse and you deserve better. I know what kind of mess is in there and you shouldn’t have to come in here and ask that it be cleaned up. I won’t try to dodge this bullet. A good job has not been done.”
County Attorney Tom Bondurant addressed the subject.
“I take full responsibility for this and after today I will go forward. It may not be resolved in court on September 11, but from now on the county won’t give as many chances to property owners who violate that ordinance,” the County Attorney told the subdivision spokesperson and the members of the Board.
County Administrator Norm Risavi joined the discussion, recalling that as long ago as when the late George Mason III served as County Attorney, “staff was instructed to only operate under a court order or an administrative search warrant. Otherwise, we were advised, the county would expose itself to potential legal problems.
“We were given sound advice, but those protocols didn’t produce immediate results. On numerous occasions we went to court and everything was dismissed,” was Risavi’s final word.
“I agree with Norm,” Bondurant then stated. “Westmoreland County doesn’t go on private property without a court order or a search warrant.”
“We’re going to get to court fairly soon,” said Fisher of the September 11 hearing date.
“In the future we ought to look at amending the ordinance. We need a process that will work. There should only be one letter before we go to court.
“I apologize to you about the delay,” Fisher told Bonacci. “The county was well intentioned and hopefully other cases won’t take as long.
“For all those who are in violation, let it be known that we are coming after you,” Fisher continued.
“We are going to get you into court, and if that’s the best we can do, we’ll have done all we can. We can’t control what the judge is going to do.”
“I’m sympathetic to all of you who have to go through what you’ve been put through in this subdivision,” District 5 supervisor Larry Roberson related.
“The county’s ordinance doesn’t have a lot of teeth, but there are ordinances out there that can be adopted that have language that can take care of such problems in a lot less time.”
District 2 Supervisor Rosemary Mahan had the final word in last week’s discussion.
“Let’s follow the ordinances we have on the books,” she told the other members of the Board.