Public hearing set for property maintenance code

FRONT ROYAL – Citizens can voice their opinions about the proposed property maintenance code at  7 p.m. Monday during a Town Council public hearing.

The council held a previous public hearing on the matter in August 2017. In November, it postponed action on the program. The previously discussed establishment of a rental inspection district was removed from the proposed code.

If passed, the town’s code would be amended to include the state’s property maintenance code. The proposed amended code states its purpose “is to protect the health, safety, and welfare” of citizens and ensure buildings “be maintained at the least possible cost consistent with recognized standards of health, safety, energy conservation and water conservation.”

Mayor Hollis Tharpe asked during a Monday work session what the benefits of such a program would be.

Planning Director Jeremy Camp responded “it is really the next step you can take to start requiring minimum maintenance standards with properties.”

The town can now only declare a building a nuisance, which Camp said presents legal challenges of getting a public health official to declare the building an imminent public safety threat.

“This would help us ward off those problems before they get to that level,” Camp said.

Town property owners would have to remove, repair, or secure any building, wall, or structure that might endanger public health or safety. Camp said the only changes that could be enforced are those on the building’s exterior.

If the property owner does not comply within 30 days of notice, town employees could make the necessary repairs. The property owner would be responsible for costs of the repairs. Any unpaid amount would constitute a lien against the property.

If passed, the town may appoint a building official to administer and enforce the code. There would also be a board of appeals to consider issues that may be disputed.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt said he and and Councilman Christopher Morrison may travel to Culpepper, which has a similar code, and see how it works.

“Yeah, let’s find out how it really works, and if it is working in the real world,” Tharpe said.