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Strasburg may ramp up code enforcement

By Alex Bridges

Strasburg leaders are revisiting how the town enforces its property and development rules that take aim at prohibited signs, tall grass and blight.

Economic Development and Planning Manager Kimberly Murray serves as Strasburg's sole enforcer for now. More diligent efforts to enforce the regulations in both the Unified Development Ordinance and the town code ultimately help all of Strasburg, Murray said Friday.

Murray gave a presentation to the Town Council Ordinance Committee recently that stressed the importance of enforcement, its direct connection to economic development and its role in helping Strasburg meet its goals in the Community Plan.

Councilman Donald Le Vine, chairman of the committee, said Friday that the panel agreed that most of the regulations in the recently adopted development ordinance already existed but that the town did not adequately enforce these rules.

"The big difference is now we're going to fairly and objectively and with some compassion enforce the ordinances," Le Vine said, noting that the responsibility lies with staff and not council or the Planning Commission.

Murray reported that non-conforming signs made up 57 percent of the town's violations from July 2013 to July 2014. Those include illegal, temporary signs and banners. Tall grass made up 22 percent of the violations. Blight and other property maintenance problems made up 13 percent of the violations while nuisances comprised the remaining 8 percent.

Enforcement needs to cover the larger problems and minor violations - from grass cutting to development in the town's industrial park, Le Vine said.

"Enforce all of the rules so the town looks prettier, it's a more inviting place to be and everybody conforms to some reasonable standards," Le Vine said.

The councilman acknowledged that the town has only one enforcer of these codes and this limits the enforcement efforts. The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission and the town are working to hire someone to enforce the regulations on a part-time basis, allowing Murray to focus on economic development.

Town Council can change the codes and ordinances, Le Vine said. The town may need to change ordinances over time, he added. Educating property owners and residents about the regulations remains a challenge, Le Vine said.

"It's not easy to get people to understand what they do have to worry about and what they don't have to worry about," Le Vine said.

The committee asked Murray to define her enforcement priorities. Council and the Planning Commission then will review those priorities. This should give a clear picture to Strasburg leaders, officials and residents as to how the town plans to prioritize its enforcement efforts.

"Council is now taking the opportunity to talk to the community to say we haven't been ... diligent with our enforcement as we should have been," Murray said. "We really want to start enforcing what we have on the books."

Enforcement usually begins with communication.

"We have that informal process that says we want to work with you to get you in compliance," Murray said. "We don't just start hitting you with the more formal process, which is then in the books, outlined in the ordinance and the town code."

That formal process involves calls, site visits, violation notices and corrective-action orders.

Enforcement and adherence to the rules play a role in economic development, Murray explained to the committee. Le Vine concurred, adding that businesses need a framework of rules by which they can operate.

"It has to be fair; it has to be objective so everybody's treated equally and so that you know what process you have to go through to establish and run your business," Le Vine said. "That makes it easier to sell, to market the town."

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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