CHIPLEY — Chipley City Council members discussed the need for a private property standards ordinance at the council’s June workshop on Thursday.
Mayor Linda Cain had a list of 52 properties from around the city that she said need cleaning up, and the primary property she was concerned with was a house on Main Street which has the lawn is decorated with artificial flowers.
“Those silk flowers look ridiculous, you mean to say we can’t do anything about it?” the mayor asked City Code Enforcement Officer David Pettis Jr.
“We don’t have a code against it,” Pettis said. He said the artificial flowers were planted in a flowerbed in the lawn, but Cook disagreed. “They aren’t in a flower bed, they’re just strewn about in the yard. It looks terrible.”
“We’ve got a good set of codes here, I’m not really sure how the council wants to proceed,” City Administrator Dan Miner said. He asked the council members to look at the code and make a list of concerns they have about private property standards, then they can discuss how to respond to those concerns.
“One issue we have is how do we recover any funds we spend on cleaning up properties?” Miner said.
City Attorney Michelle Taggart told the council that the Florida Supreme Court recently ruled that municipalities are not allowed to supersede mortgages with their liens, which makes recovery of fines more difficult.
“Look at the codes and see if there is anything we can do to reduce debris or dilapidated houses,” Miner said.
The mayor said the legal process of hunting down property owners and sending them letters takes too long to do anything about cleaning up neglected properties.
“It’s a matter of due diligence,” Miner said. “There is a legal process we have to follow, and it does take some time.”
The city has to find the abandoned or neglected property owners, and notify them of the problem. Then if nothing is done, the city can seek citations, fines and liens. But the process is time consuming.
Miner said that as generations pass, properties change from homes to rental properties, and often the pride of ownership and care of lawns and homes falls to the wayside. “Often the kids have moved off to Illinois or who knows where, and it’s just a rental property to them. There’s no upkeep on the properties,” Miner said.
For abandoned properties, if the city decides to tear them down, they have to bear the expense of tearing down the property and clearing the lot, money that will most likely never be returned to the city.
When the topic turned to the artificial flowers, Pettis said that the aesthetic appeal of artificial flowers were a matter of opinion, not a subject of code. “What if I don’t like azalea bushes?” Pettis asked the mayor. “Should we write a code saying no one can have azalea bushes?”
“Don’t even try to go there,” the mayor said. “You know it’s not the same.”
Cain said she would go dig the property owners a flowerbed and plant them real flowers if they would allow her to take away the artificial flowers.
“I’m serious. I will go dig them a flowerbed,” the mayor said.