Superior council debates placarding nuisance buildings
The placards would provide contact information for the responsible party for residences with a high volume of police calls from neighbors.
A change in the city’s nuisance property code received approval Tuesday, Dec. 1 and will allow properties identified as a nuisance to be placarded with the responsible party’s contact information.
The nuisance property ordinance, adopted in 2006, was designed to address habitual nuisances in city neighborhoods stemming from offenses like harassment, disorderly conduct, battery, lewd and lascivious behavior, prostitution, theft, receiving stolen property, arson, drug-related offenses, gambling, animal violations, trespassing and weapons violations.
Three or more offenses in one year that result in enforcement action would trigger notification of property owners. They will be required to meet with a team of police officers to resolve the issues through an abatement plan. Failure to make that effort can result in fines of $250 to $1,000 for the first offense and $500 to $2,000 for subsequent offenses.
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The measure to include a placard on the nuisance property was introduced to the public safety committee in September, approved in October and referred back to committee in November, where it was approved for the second time.
“Last time we had some good discussion on it,” said Councilor Craig Sutherland, committee chair.
Sutherland said he would prefer the council vote on the measure rather than send it back to committee again. He made the motion to approve the ordinance change.
The goal of the change is to provide police called to the nuisance property with information readily available to address the issue, Superior Police Chief Nicholas Alexander said.
“The placard would contain information of the landlord so if we get called there while they’re under a nuisance abatement plan that we have a quick and easy way to contact the landlord to try to resolve whatever is going on there,” Alexander said.
Councilor Nicholas Ledin said while his concerns about victims of domestic abuse or mental health issues triggering the chronic nuisance ordinance were alleviated during committee discussion, he said he still had concerns about labeling a house as a chronic nuisance.
“I would like to see council approval before a placard is placed on anyone’s door,” Ledin said.
Ledin made a motion to amend the ordinance to make that a requirement for placarding a building.
Alexander said he didn’t have a problem with the amendment because the abatement process could begin and it would only be the placard that would be delayed.
However, the amendment didn’t sit well with six of the councilors, and the amendment was defeated. Sutherland and councilors Warren Bender, Jack Sweeney, Brent Fennessey, Keith Kern and Esther Dalbec voted against it.
“At what point do we allow our department heads to do what we hired them for?” Fennessey asked. “Are we going next to ask for council approval for every pothole that is going to be filled? At some point we have to trust our police chief and hired staff to do a job … we’re not the experts for the police department. We’re not the experts for public works.”
Councilor Jenny Van Sickle disagreed, stating the council that sets policy, and the policy didn’t change during the last public safety committee meeting. She said the amendment makes sense.
“It’s my understanding that this is so outrageously rare, the council would consider a placard almost never,” Van Sickle said.
Sutherland said if council approval is required for every placard, it could elevate the matter beyond the issue of a piece of paper on a door.
Under the state’s open meeting laws, the council can take no action on matters the public isn’t notified about in advance on the agenda.
“It would be a lot worse if it has to be agendized,” Sutherland said.
After the amendment was defeated, the council split 7-3 to approve the ordinance change. Ledin, Van Sickle and Councilor Ruth Ludwig voted against the placard requirement.
In other business, councilors:
- Officially named the new trail between the Osaugie Trail near Bear Creek Park and Wisconsin Point Road: Makwa Ziibiins Miikana (Bear Creek Trail) in recognition of the Ojibwe who first inhabited the area.
- Adopted an ordinance creating a special use permit to allow solar farms in all zoning districts in the city.
- Approved agreements with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for mill and overlay projects on U.S. Highway 53 scheduled for 2024 and Tower Avenue in 2026.