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Proposed ordinance takes aim at 'public nuisances'

"A growing number of Kitsap County residents, plagued by neighbors who have allowed garbage, debris and sometimes junk cars to pile up on lawns and private property, have complained profusely to county officials over the last year.They tended to be particularly annoyed because, unless the messy property owner agrees to clean up and haul away built-up trash, it could take years for Kitsap County to obtain a clean-up order via the courts.Kitsap citizens who complained to county officials wanted to know why, and didn't want to wait as long as two years to see messy neighbors clean up their act.The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners is trying to heed those concerns without violating the rights of the allegedly messy landowners. One man's junk could be another man's treasure, right?The commissioners on Jan. 8 plan to consider adopting a new public nuisance ordinance that would outlaw the accumulation of junk on private property - so long as it's not a licensed junkyard - only following a public hearing. The ordinance defines junk in several ways, but basically follows a common-sense approach. In other words, if it belongs at the dump and it's not in your garbage can, then it probably shouldn't be piling upon your private property.At the last commissioners' meeting of 2000, Department of Community Development inspector Mark Grimm urged approval of the ordinance, saying it exactly copies current state public nuisance laws and streamlines existing county codes that already are enforced today.County officials said similar laws throughout the state have stood up to judicial scrutiny.This ordinance effectively shortens the process, reduces the number of fines that could be issued and potentially takes the matter out of the criminal realm into the civil arena, Grimm said. The proposed ordinance directs the county to first seek a voluntary clean-up agreement with any land owner who violates the proposed law. If the property owner doesn't meet the terms of the agreement, the county could abate or clean up the mess and charge the property owner later. If the violator refuses to enter into a voluntary clean-up agreement in the first place, the county could issue a notice of abatement, ordering a clean-up effort. That notice can be appealed to a violations hearing examiner, who could dismiss the appeal or uphold it. If the examiner dismisses the appeal, the property owner is expected to clean up his or her mess in 30 days.If that deadline isn't met, the county could clean up the mess at the cost of the owner. Under the proposed ordinance, clean up - voluntary or not - could occur within months, not years.The commissioners requested further clarification of the ordinance and held the matter over until January. "

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