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Archive for Wednesday, August 26, 1998

BITE ON BLIGHT

August 26, 1998

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Stronger enforcement measures to require owners to maintain their property should be a boon to Lawrence's older neighborhoods.

Putting some teeth into the city's environmental ordinance may save a number of local homes from falling victim to what officials call ``demolition by neglect.''

The ordinance has been altered to provide new enforcement options for city inspectors to use to force people to maintain the safety of their properties and keep them from becoming a neighborhood eyesore. Rather than just sending what Lynn Goodell, the city's director of housing and neighborhood development, called ``nice-guy letters,'' city officials now can issue citations for property owners to appear in municipal court. Officials hope the new tactic will drive home the message that the city is serious about enforcing the ordinance.

Both neighborhood advocates and city commissioners had grown weary of property owners who seemed to be paving their way to demolition permits by simply not maintaining their property. When the houses got to a certain state of disrepair, city officials then had little choice but to allow them to be torn down. That action cleared the way for the property owners to increase their income by replacing the house with multifamily units.

Allowing for stricter enforcement of the environmental ordinance should benefit aging neighborhoods by requiring owners to provide at least minimal maintenance for their properties. That not only makes a neighborhood more stable and attractive, it eliminates potential safety hazards for local children. It also discourages vacant properties that can become a haven for transient people or criminal activity.

Although some residents might like to use the ordinance to enforce good taste in their neighborhoods, the city's intent is simply to see that properties are maintained so they are safe and not allowed to deteriorate beyond repair.

That's not too much to ask, but city officials have found that simply asking often is not enough. The new ordinance gives them the authority to take more timely and direct action against property owners who are contributing to the deterioration of their own property and the entire surrounding neighborhood and that's a step in the right direction.

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