How to ensure residents keep up their properties? Council explores ideas

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Marlene Maier, the new executive director of the Mountlake Terrace Senior Center, paid a visit to the City Council Oct. 2.

After hearing a report from the city’s new senior center executive director and updates on performance measures from city departments, Mountlake Terrace City Councilmembers Oct. 2 turned their attention to some new business, raised by Councilmember Doug McCardle: How to ensure that residents keep their properties in good shape and in compliance with city codes.

McCardle said he spent time over the summer driving around the city and observing a variety of code violations on residents’ properties. As a result, he said, he would like a future council presentation on the city’s code enforcement procedure — “what’s the process, what’s the timeline, maybe what’s the philosophy behind that process and why we do it the way we do it — and possibly look at models from different cities.”

The councilmember noted he has personally reported code violations to the city “and it’s been months and nothing’s done.” While McCardle said he appreciates the city’s intention to work with homeowners and property owners to clean up their properties, “I’d just like to revisit it.”

City Manager Scott Hugill replied that he’d welcome the opportunity to have a discussion on the issue, including whether the city should institute “a tighter timeline when we don’t get that voluntary compliance that’s so valuable.”

Hugill stressed that the city does have a vigorous code enforcement effort, but “we just don’t see the fruits of that.” While the perception may be that nothing happens, “it’s not because code enforcement [staff] isn’t doing anything, it’s because we can’t get the property owner to do anything that’s visible. And that’s really where it rests. How hard can you push that property owner or that tenant on the property to comply?”

City Attorney Greg Schrag added that the what’s happening on the property, and the individual that the city is working with, dictates the timeline for enforcement action.

“If you are looking for voluntary compliance and they are at least doing something, they may be given additional time,” Schrag added. “Even though you may not notice it’s all completed and everything’s back the way it should be. Timelines vary from each individual code complaint.”

Councilmember Kyoko Matsumoto Wright recalled submitting a code complaint regarding a roof, where a blue tarp was in place for about a year. “I don’t know if that’s acceptable for a city to allow that to happen,” Wright said.

She suggested that the city could issue regular reports on the status of code complaints “to let the public know that we do notice and that we are working on them.”

Mayor Jerry Smith said he recognizes that some residents might not be able to afford to mow their lawns or don’t have a lawn mower. He suggested the city look at establishing a program that matches volunteers with those in need of help to provide yard work or other chores. “I know there’s a few older folks who need some help,” Smith said.

Wright pointed to a recent story about a “Buy Nothing” group, where people are willing to barter time or services with others. “There’s a lot of people with time on their hands that want to do something but they don’t know how, and there are people who need help but they don’t really want to ask because they are embarrassed,” she added. “This is maybe one way that we can get them all together.”

In other business, Marlene Maier, the new executive director of the Mountlake Terrace Senior Center, reported she has been working hard to increase the visibility of the senior center, located in the former golf course clubhouse at Ballinger Park. The senior center’s membership has increased by 100 in recent months, and Maier encouraged those interested in joining to fill out the form at this link, and return it to the center with a check — $25 for a single membership and $35 for couples.

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