Condemnation vote leads to discussion of how to address code violations
Updated: Apr 9, 2022
James Higgins addressed the Pleasanton City Council about the continuing problem of housing with code violations at the council's meeting on Monday, March28. (Photo by Roger Sims, Linn County Journal)
PLEASANTON – A plea for leniency on a condemnation order from a woman hoping to save her home. A city councilman determined to proceed with that order. A resident asking hard questions about the state of other houses in the city. A city codes inspector frustrated by the difficulty of her job. A city administrator trying to find a solution to the problem.
Those were the players in a sometime passionate discussion that played out Monday evening, March 28, in the council chambers of Pleasanton City Hall. And although the discussion was initially about a single property, there were broader implications about the direction Pleasanton was headed.
Stephanie Schade, the owner of the property at 210 W. Fifth St., insisted that she had made improvements to the property but was hampered in completing the city’s requirements because it would take time, money and considerable labor.
And while Schade insisted that she had made considerable progress in cleaning up the property and making repairs to the house, city codes officer Sandy Atkinson told the council she had driven by the property earlier that afternoon and the material on Schade’s property had simply been moved around and that some painting had been done.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can,” Schade said.
Councilwoman Rochelle Schreckhise asked Schade if her roof leaked because it looked like one side of the roof was bad, but Schade said it was not leaking.
Councilman Aaron Portman told Schade that the process of allowing her to bring the house up to code had gone beyond the March 20 deadline set a couple of months ago.
“We’ve given you two years to get the house up to code,” he said, adding that he would make a motion to proceed with condemnation of the home.
Schade asked Portman if there was a personal issue with her, a suggestion Portman denied.
“We don’t want to tear down houses, period,” he said.
At that point James Higgins spoke up from the back of the council chamber pointing out that there were five more houses in Schade’s neighborhood that were “more atrocious” than her house. Another 15 houses in a six-block area were also worse than hers, he claimed.
Higgins said he was all for cleaning up the city, but that he was for giving help to people who needed the help. “There’s so many violations, they don’t care.”
Portman said that despite the council trying to take action on cleaning up deteriorating houses in the city, those houses just don’t go away. The council is trying to do the right thing, and when it does it is ridiculed.
Higgins agreed that Schade’s house was not up to code. However, he said the city can’t make an example of one person, at least while that person is making some progress. He suggested that if Schade was held to a standard, the city needed to hold owners of those other properties up to the same standard.
At that point, codes officer Atkinson expressed her frustration, telling the council that she was working on as many cases of deteriorated houses as she can in her position, which is a 10-hour-a-week part-time position.
After Mayor Mike Frisbie pushed the council on deciding whether or not to give Schade more time to bring her property up to code, Portman made the motion to proceed with the condemnation, with Councilman Joe Whitaker providing a second for the motion.
During the discussion City Administrator Teresa Whitaker told the council that condemning the property didn’t necessarily mean it needed to be demolished. She said in some cases, city workers can make repairs to bring the property up to code with a lien being placed on the property to cover the cost of repairs.
City Clerk April Umphenour told the council that Schade had been advised of that remedy, but Schade declined to take advantage of that option.
Schade said she declined because she didn’t understand the process.
The council split the vote on the condemnation measure with Portman and Whitaker voting for it and Schreckhise voting against it. Council members Melanie Staton and Jake Mattingley did not attend the meeting.
In a separate statement, Schreckhise said, “I am all for cleanup on nuisance properties, but not for tearing their home down while they are living in it and making them homeless. Especially when they have a family.”
After the council discussed a few unrelated items, discussion returned to the broader issue of addressing housing that violated city codes.
Atkinson again expressed her frustration in trying to address the issue.
“In this job, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” she said. “I took the job to clean up the city.”
She said that much of the problem was repeat offenders. She will work with property owners to get a problem cleaned up, and two weeks later it’s back like it was.
The city administrator pointed out that during Atkinson’s tenure as codes officer, the situation in the city was much better than before. She also said the city doesn’t have enough staff to go out and fix people’s homes.
Higgins asked if repeat offenders could be sent to jail. City Attorney Burton Harding said they could not.
Higgins said that in Overland Park, there is swifter action against derelict properties. But Harding pointed out that Overland Park had more financial resources to deal with the problem.
Higgins asked what the citizens of Pleasanton could do to work on the situation. He suggested that the city needed a long-term plan to address the housing issue.
Teresa Whitaker suggested the city would look at putting a committee together to address the problem.