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Proposed zoning inspector would police untidy properties

April 02, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Complaints from Washington County residents fed up with living near properties inundated with weeds, trash or other junk may soon receive full-time attention from the county government.

The County Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to create a zoning inspector position in the fiscal year that begins July 1 to respond to complaints about such properties.

The county does not have a zoning inspector and must use building inspectors when they are available to respond to such complaints, County Attorney Richard Douglas and Permits and Inspections Director Bill Sprague said.

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"It really is a waste of manpower and a waste of talent," Sprague said.

The zoning inspector will work full time checking out properties that may violate Washington County's zoning ordinance.

"I think it'll be a more efficient way of doing it, and we can be more responsive to a citizen's complaint," Sprague said.

Most of the complaints from residents deal with the accumulation of junk on properties during the winter and weeds in the summer, he said.

Douglas said that as Washington County continues to grow, so will the number of properties that draw complaints from neighbors.

"We're just trying to meet the demands of a growing county," Douglas said. "The commissioners realize that we need to meet the needs of the citizens and protect the value of their properties."

Douglas said his office is working on amendments to the zoning ordinance that would allow the inspector to issue fines on the spot to violators. The commissioners would take the amendments to a public hearing before they can vote on them, Douglas said.

Currently, the county sends a notice of violation to a property owner.

If the property is not cleaned up after a certain period of time, the property owner can be charged with a misdemeanor and be required to appear in Washington County District Court, Douglas said.

He said that usually only property owners who appear to be in severe violation of the ordinance are taken to court.

That way of forcing owners to clean up their properties is time-consuming and an inefficient way of using the court system, Douglas said.

Property owners found by the court to be in violation typically receive fines, Sprague said. The amount of the fines is based on how severe the violation is and whether the property owner has a history of similar violations.

Sprague said a zoning inspector with the power to fine violators would get the attention of property owners, who might clean up their properties more quickly.

Until then, Sprague said, some violators will continue to end up in court.

"We'll probably be going a lot more once we have someone dedicated to this," he said.

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