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Abby drafting new condemnation ordinance

Abbotsford is asking an attorney to write a new ordinance that would allow condemnation cases to be heard by the city’s municipal court instead of going before judges in Wausau or Neillsville.

A motion to spend between $500 and $600 on a new condemnation ordinance was adopted at Monday’s council meeting, with the task being assigned to Medford attorney Courtney Graff.

The action is the latest step in an effort by city officials to crack down on slum lords and dilapidated buildings that are violating health and safety codes.

Under the city’s current ordinance, if a building inspector orders a structure to be condemned, the owner can appeal that decision to the circuit court, which are located in the county seats.

Grady said keeping the appeals process in the municipal court will save everyone trips to Neillsville or Wausau.

“It just gives us more flexibility to be here in Abbotsford than it does going anywhere else,” he said.

Ald. Dennis Kramer raised a question about what happens to the people who live in a house that is condemned.

Grady said that issue could be addressed by the ordinance or the municipal court, but he acknowledged it is a concern.

“It’s a tough issue because we have a severe housing crunch in the city, so if we take away housing from people, that creates a problem for those people,” he said.

Ald. Mason Rachu, however, said the city should not sit by while people live in unsafe homes.

“At the same time, if the building needs to be condemned, we don’t want them there,” he said.

Based on his conversations Mayor Lori Voss, Grady said their hope is that going after one or two bad properties will motivate others to bring their properties up to code.

Ald. Roger Weideman wondered what would happen if someone wanted to buy a property that had been condemned and fix it up so it doesn’t have to be torn down.

Grady said tear-down orders are normally only issued when the cost to bring a property up to code is more than half the value of the home itself. He said that initial determination would be made by the building inspector, with the city council responsible for issuing an order, and the municipal court hearing appeals.

Weideman also expressed concern about the city spending a lot of money on condemnation proceedings with no way of recouping those expenses.

Grady said those costs can always be placed on the property owner’s tax rolls, though he acknowledged that’s not always a surefire way to get reimbursed.

“It may take us years to get the money back, and frankly, we may never get it back,” he said. “We may end up with a piece of property.”

Ald. Jim Weix said that issue could be addressed by the new ordinance.

“If the ordinance reads correctly, I think we’ll be safe,” he said. “We can cover ourselves on that end.”

In a related matter, Grady said he spoke to city officials in Wausau about hiring out one their building inspectors, but he said they are too busy with their own properties to do work in Abbotsford.

Grady said he also reviewed the city’s ordinances with local inspector Bob Christensen, who suggested creating a checklist for rental properties that includes basic necessities such as adequate heating and water pressure.

This checklist could be used by local police officers who get complaints from tenants about substandard living conditions.

“If there are issues, he (Christensen) can issue citations or the police can,” he said, noting that the council would be responsible for setting fine amounts.

Grady said many of the city’s ordinances need to be rewritten, but the existing ones should be adequate for addressing some basic problems with living conditions.

Another idea Grady had was to create a registry of local landlords so the city knows who to contact in case there are problems that need to be addressed.

_ The council approved a conditional use permit for Mike Hryndej (Mykhail, LLC) to remodel the former Kramer-Schiferl Realty office on East Spruce Street into a multi-family residential rental with space for up to nine tenants.

The council was originally going to vote on the conditional use permit at its June 17 meeting, but the decision was put off until the neighboring property owners could be contacted.

Grady said he spoke to the owner of East Side Hair and Tanning, who raised concerns about possible noise, loitering, privacy and the safety of her employees at night. He said she is also worried about snow removal because the two buildings essentially share a parking lot.

Ald. Mason Rachu said the salon owner can always have vehicles towed if they are blocking the snow plow in her parking lot.

“I understand her concerns, but I think they are ones that are easily remedied,” he said.

The motion to approve the conditional use permit was passed 6-0-1, with Ald. Kramer abstaining.

_ The council approved an increase in local parking tickets from $15 to $25, matching a similar increase recently approved by the city of Colby.

_ The council approved the continued use of GoToMeeting, at a cost of $14 per month, to allow council members, residents and others to participate in meetings by phone.

_ The council approved an alcohol operator’s license for Michelle Albrecht at the Abby-Colby Crossings Chamber of Commerce.

Editor’s note: Due to time and space restraints, some new items from Monday’s meeting will not be reported on until next week’s edition.