City steps up code enforcement
I can shake a building, it's coming down.'
JOE LAMB CITY BUILDING OFFICIAL
Look for code enforcement to once again heat up in Port Aransas.
The arrival of a code enforcement officer - Esmerelda Chaires - on the day before Labor Day means the city's building division is once again fully-staffed and ready to get at code problems in the city, said building official Joe Lamb.
"We sent out 62 letters (to violators of city codes) in September alone," Lamb said. "We're going after six buildings that don't meet city codes."
One of those buildings is the structure at Cut-off Road and Cotter Avenue, where at least one homeless person had reportedly been camping out.
The building has recently been sold, and new owners Mike and Gillie Sturgensen plan to tear it down and start over, Lamb said.
"They agreed to tear it down just before I filed condemnation on it," he said.
Under city ordinances, Lamb can condemn buildings that are structurally unsound or that allow vagrants or children to hide in them.
"If I can shake a building, it's coming down," Lamb said, "and there are several buildings in Port Aransas that I can shake."
Condemning a building isn't an overnight process, however.
' If it's a commercial building, state officials need to be satisfied it's within asbestos safety standards. That takes two weeks, and even if the building owner is willing to destroy the building before that, it's against the law for him to do that, Lamb said.
If the city condemns a building, the owner has six weeks to tear it down before the matter goes before the city's Board of Adjustments and Appeals. That board, which is independent of the city council, can order the building torn down.
Board of Adjustment decisions can be appealed only to the courts.
That's different from code enforcement, the part of the building office most people are probably familiar with. Code enforcement handles appearances of properties, such as abandoned vehicles and unmown yards.
"If we can see (a vehicle) from the street and it doesn't have a state inspection sticker and tags, we can tow it," Lamb said.
He said the city is beginning a campaign to rid streets and lots of abandoned vehicles.
"Code enforcement has fallen behind," Lamb said. "The problem has been continuity. We've had five code enforcement officers in the past three years. But there's a lot to that job that people don't suspect."
He said Chaires, who hit the ground running in her new job, averages looking at 30 properties a week.
"We're starting in the old section of town and working our way out," he said.
Calling the new thrust "a campaign to clean up the town," Lamb said 62 code enforcement violations in a city the size of Port Aransas is "way out of line."
On the other hand, regarding tall grass, he said, "To be fair to them (people who have second homes in Port Aransas), they may have paid people to mow the lawns, but they're in Austin or somewhere and have no way of knowing whether it got mowed or not."
If it didn't, they'll soon find out.