Hamburg City Council voted Tuesday, July 28, to give City Attorney Paul Keith the authority to take owners of some properties deemed junkyards to court.
The council has discussed the issue of unsightly properties in recent months, and when bringing the issue up Tuesday Mayor Dane Weindorf said the move would be to support efforts to move the city in a positive direction.
“To move forward with reviving our city on a positive basis, we need to have some way to get people to follow through with what we want without putting a lien on their property,” he said.
Keith said the state has adopted legal language that requires any junkyard within 1,000 feet of a federal highway — including U.S. 82, which runs through Hamburg — to be screened or removed.
Under the state’s language, a junkyard is defined as an automobile graveyard with five or more inoperable vehicles parked on the property, he said.
Properties in Hamburg fit that definition, Paul said.
“We have dealt with this issue for some time and we have not gotten anywhere,” he said.
The law allows the state highway commission to bring an enforcement order against the property, Keith said, but it also allows municipalities to bring an action in district court.
The first step would be for the city to identify such properties and then notify them that they are not in compliance with the law. When notifying them of the non-compliance, the owners and operators should be given a reasonable amount of time to get back in compliance, either by removing the vehicles or screening the property, Paul said.
“If they have not taken a serious effort, then you take them to court,” he said.
The city attorney told the council members he believes 15 days could be considered a reasonable amount of time.
When Councilwoman Derenda Stanley asked if it would be possible for the city to apply the law to properties that are beyond 1,000 feet of a federal highway, Paul told her it was possible for the council to adopt an ordinance that mirrors the state language but applies to the entire city.
After discussing other matters of cleaning up the city — including the existing ordinances about derelict properties and property maintenance — the council decided to move forward with the resolution.
Before it was adopted, however, Paul told the council that while he could send letters to notify property owners of their non-compliance as a regular part of his role as an elected city attorney, actually taking the case to court was beyond the statutory limits of the elected position.
If the council chose to use him as their representative in the court, they would also have to vote to use him or his law firm at its usual hourly rate of $325 an hour.
The resolution as adopted allows Paul not only to contact the property owners but to take them to court. Stanley made the motion to adopt and Councilman Daniel Shelton seconded it. The motion passed unanimously.