SIDNEY — The Sidney Vacant Property Board of Review held its first meeting Jan. 9 in which a resident appealed a vacant property determination declared last fall.
Royce A. Link on behalf of Arthur Spreen requested to appeal the city’s determination that Spreen’s property at 402 Riverside Drive is a vacant property. This would require for the property to be registered in the city’s newly instituted program.
Last August, Sidney City Council established the vacant property registration program to deal with abandoned and vacant properties around town to minimize neighborhood blight.
At the August council meeting, Vacant Property Inspector Kyle Havenar defined a vacant building as a commercial, industrial, or residential detached building; or a semi-detached building, or attached building with ownership separated by a common wall which is unoccupied for a period of time over 90 days and one or more of the following:
(1) Unoccupied and unsecured; or
(2) Unoccupied and secured by other than normal means; or
(3) Unoccupied and an unsafe building as determined by the building inspector or fire inspector; or
(4) Unoccupied and having utilities disconnected; or
(5) Unoccupied and has property maintenance or building code violations; or
(6) Illegally occupied, which shall include loitering and vagrancy; or
(7) Unoccupied and has one or more broken or boarded windows; or
(8) Unoccupied and abandoned; or
(9) Unoccupied and used for other than a permitted use of zoning district in which it is located, unless owner provides documentation of legal non-conforming use.
An abandoned building, Havenar defined as a building which is unoccupied and (1) holds a mortgage status of abandonment (deceased or foreclosed); or (2) has taxes in arrears for a period of time exceeding 365 days.
Property owners are required to register the property 90 after it becomes unoccupied. After a property meets the definition of a vacant building, a letter is sent out notifying the owner they have 30 days to register.
Spreen has been living at 402 Riverside Drive, but water utilities have not been turned on at his home since 2011. At that time, a water line going to Spreen’s property busted and he never had the water service turned back on, Havenar said at the hearing last week. This code violation, Havenar said, is the reason the property was declared a vacant property.
“Mr. Spreen identified to me that he is living at the property but he has no water. It is a violation of the Sidney Shelby Health Code and with being in non-compliance of that code, it was determined that he is unlawfully residing at 402 Riverside Drive. And as such, meets our definition of unoccupied,” Havenar said.
The city sent a letter notifying Spreen of the determination in October. Spreen then applied for his property to be exempt from registering in the vacant property program, but the application was denied by the city.
Link argued Spreen’s property should not be considered a vacant property because, as he noted, according to the vacant building definition, it must be unoccupied and have utilities disconnected, or unoccupied and have existing property maintenance or building code violations.
“… I don’t believe the utilities being disconnected or the maintenance or utilities code violations can be used to meet that definition … of a vacant property …,” Link said, as Spreen was living at the property.
Link said Spreen admitted to having the water off, however he was willing to fix the water issue, as he recently hired a plumber. He also hoped to the city would allow him to set up payment arrangements for his outstanding water bill.
Law Director Jeff Amick asked Spreen how he had been living all these years without running water. Spreen told him he carried water in and did not use his home’s toilet in the bathroom. Spreen said instead he used a camper, chemical toilet and used restrooms other places than at home. Amick also asked Spreen if he was aware the city requires for all homes in Sidney to have running water hooked up. Spreen replied that “it is hooked up now,” but only became aware of that requirement about a month after receiving Havenar’s letter. Spreen then admitted his home was not in compliance before a plumber recently fixed the pipes.
Amick disagreed and debated with Link about whether Spreen legally occupied the property and was not convinced Spreen was not in violation of the code.
After a brief break in which Amick, City Manager Mark Cundiff and Assitant Fire Chief Cameron Haller stepped out to confer and consider whether to accept Spreen’s request to reconnect the water, with a plumber present, and make billing arrangements to avoid registering.
When city officials returned to Council Chambers, Amick then voted as the board chairman. It was the first board meeting, and the board members realized this was not accomplished at the opening of the meeting.
Then Amick turned to the matter at hand and emphasized the goal of the program is to get unfit homes up to code, not simply have owners register and pay the city money. He said the city of Sidney is a municipality “not a bank.” He said Spreen must come to an agreement with the finance office about his bill. Spreen also must ensure his home’s plumbing can receive water service without any issues since it was disconnected for so many years, he said.
“We take this pact not because we feel that there is any short coming in our ordinance, but because we feel as a group the equity and fairness dictates that we try to give you an opportunity to lawfully occupy the home that you inherited, as opposed to you becoming a statistic on a list. But you have to meet us more than half way. You’ve got to pay the bill or make arrangements to pay the bill that you’ve accumulated. And we got to make sure just because the water is on that it performs to extent that its supposed to,” Amick told Spreen.
Spreen agreed to do what is necessary.
Amick continued the hearing to give Spreen time to become compliant. It will reconvene on Jan. 23 at 3 p.m.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.