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Commissioners to OK nuisance ordinance

The Kitsap County Commissioners are scheduled to approve a proposed nuisance ordinance, designed to keep properties clean of garbage and junk cars, on Monday, Oct. 22.

The proposed ordinance will be considered for decision only at the 10 a.m. meeting, according to Eric Baker, a supervisor with the county’s Code Enforcement Department. The public comment period for the ordinance already has ended.

“Under current law, we can issue tickets in a circular manner and still dirty properties don’t get cleaned up,” Baker said. “The difference with this ordinance is that we can go through the whole process and, at the end of it, we can clean up problem properties.”

Baker said he expects the commissioners to approve the ordinance.

The ordinance has been the subject of months of debate and amendments, but county officials said it now strikes a balance between opponents and proponents.

Proponents argue the measure protects them from dwindling property values and loss of peace of mind if a neighbor refuses to clean up property or dispose of junk cars. Opponents have said the measure targets classic car collectors and those who fix up older cars as a hobby.

The county changed the ordinance to allow up to six junked cars to be stored on a piece of property if they are screened from view. Owners also are required to sign an agreement stipulating the cars won’t drip oil or other contaminants, and pay a one-time $10 fee for each vehicle.

Cars are considered “screened” if they are placed 250 feet away from property lines or obscured by natural vegetation or fencing.

Cars are considered “junk” if they meet three of four criteria: The vehicle must be at least three years old, significantly damaged, apparently inoperable, and worth no more than its value as scrap metal.

Current law allows county code enforcement officers to levy fines of $475 for junk property violations. Those citations can be appealed through the state judicial system. The new ordinance would be more stringent than the old.

“We don’t write citations for the money, but to address a serious matter,” said Baker. “The public nuisance process outlined in this ordinance would allow us to eventually clean up the property. It is the second prong to a two-pronged approach.”

Under the new ordinance, the county can ask a recalcitrant property owner to sign a voluntary cleanup agreement after the civil infraction process.

The agreement outlines a timeframe during which the property owner must clean up the unsightly site. By signing the contract, the property owner waives the right to appeal the matter.

If the property owner refuses to sign the agreement, the county would be allowed to declare the property a public nuisance. The property owner can appeal that order all the way up to Superior Court, but if the appeals favor the property will be cleaned. The current law has no provision for forced property cleanup.

Baker said the Department of Public Works would be responsible for cleaning the property. The owner would be billed, possibly by placing a lien on the property.

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