County eyes new rules targeting blight
By Jon Hawley
Sunday, July 1, 2018
Pasquotank County is planning a new effort against blighted properties and overgrown lots, County Manager Sparty Hammett said last week.
During a meeting with members of the county’s Special Projects Committee, Hammett explained the county has reserved about $32,500 in its 2018-19 budget to address dilapidated housing and lots where grass may be approaching two feet in height. Those have long been problems — and he already has a list of properties commissioners and citizens have reported to him — but the county hasn't had the money to act on them, he said.
Hammett and County Attorney Michael Cox said the county already has authority under state law to condemn and demolish housing that's dilapidated and posing a health or safety risk. What Pasquotank needs to do now, he said, is develop administrative rules for pursuing condemnation and demolition of those properties.
Hammett also recommended the county focus on vacant houses for now. However, he pledged that, when property owners are making progress in repairing their houses, the county would show flexibility and grant them more time.
When the county does demolish houses, it will put liens against the properties to try to recoup its costs, just as other local governments do. However, Hammett said the county shouldn't expect to get much money back on demolitions. Given demolishing blight can eliminate safety hazards, deter crime and protect property values, he recommended it's in the public interest to spend the money regardless.
Hammett also reported two dilapidated properties already on the county's radar: 1206 West Main Street and 1032 Traci Drive.
Hammett said he also gets multiple calls every week during the summer about overgrown lots. Such lots are not only unsightly, but can draw vermin, he said.
Unlike blighted properties, however, state law doesn’t give Pasquotank authority to mow overgrown lawns, Hammett said. Pasquotank will need to adopt an ordinance to do that, he said, adding he hopes to present that ordinance to commissioners next month.
Hammett also asked commissioners what the maximum allowable height for grass should be. The smaller the maximum height, the more often the county will end up mowing properties and the more enforcement will cost, he cautioned.
Hammett suggested the county adopt a maximum allowable height of 24 inches. Pasquotank Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Bill Sterritt disagreed, however, suggesting 18 inches instead. That's easier to cut and reduces safety hazards, he said.
Cox also recommended the county prioritize enforcing the ordinance in subdivisions, commenting that's where most complaints about overgrown lots originate.
Hammett also said the county would look to contract out any mowing it does for overgrown lots.
County officials also noted Thursday that, when blighted properties or overgrown lots are in the Elizabeth City limits, it's the city's responsibility to regulate them.