Task force proposes end to irritations

City officials hope to put a stop to noisy parties and public disturbances.
Sunday, September 24, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:26 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

Proposed amendments to the city’s nuisance ordinances, the result of more than a year of work by the Nuisance Party and Property Task Force, would result in steep fines and other sanctions against tenants and landlords of properties deemed to be chronic nuisances.

The task force, appointed by Mayor Darwin Hindman, has presented the ordinances to the Columbia City Council for review. The eight-member task force deliberated and heard presentations over the course of 18 meetings before proposing three new ordinances that would address nuisance parties, chronic nuisances and aesthetic violations.

“(The ordinances) create the option for law enforcement to address a problem brought to them by the community,” task force chairman Stephen Reichlin said.

The first two bills propose minimum fines for nuisance parties, defined as rowdy social gatherings of 10 or more people, and nuisance activities, which include criminal acts such as illegal drug use, prostitution or the shooting of firearms. They would impose fines ranging from $500 to $4,000 for nuisance activities, depending on the severity and the number of infractions.

The bills would also establish procedures for determining how and whether to declare a property to be a chronic nuisance and for landlords to try to mitigate the problem through consultations with police, who would be allowed to shut down properties where persistent violations occur.

The third bill, an amendment to the “ugly ordinance” established in the 1990s, proposes that city codes be amended to prevent piles of brick, gravel, lumber, mulch, rock, roofing materials or sand from remaining on any property for more than 90 days without a building permit. Violators would face an initial fine of up to $500 that could increase with every day the nuisance remains, City Counselor Fred Boeckmann said.

Task force member Phil Nickerson, who is also a member of the Columbia Apartment Association, filed a minority report with the council, saying the ordinances call for too much punishment of landlords rather than tenants.

“Everyone has to be accountable for their own actions,” Nickerson said.

Davie Holt, a member of the Missouri Students Association who made a presentation to the task force, believes the opposite. He said the nuisance party provisions in particular would be hard on student tenants.

“The noise violation is pretty harsh,” he said.

While persistent problems in the East Campus neighborhood helped drive the creation of the task force and the amendments it produced, Hindman said he is also “concerned about situations in other neighborhoods.” He specifically mentioned the area surrounding Garth Avenue and Sexton Road, where frequent crime prompted City Manager Bill Watkins to order a police crackdown in August.

Hindman said any new nuisance ordinances should contain provisions that allow city officials to step in and stop suspicious behavior when police and prosecutors cannot.

“(It’s) pretty obvious that in some neighborhoods you have drug sales and prostitution,” Hindman said. “My goal was that neighbors could deal with behavior that is not acceptable but yet might fall short of having to prove those crimes because of due process.”

Hindman cited the example of homes with traffic patterns that indicate probable drug dealing.

“I’m concerned about the situation where you can’t prove those crimes, but yet what’s going on shouldn’t be going on. ... You got people driving in and out of the driveway every 15 minutes, you can see men going into the house and coming back out of the house not much later.”

The Nuisance Party Ordinance is slated to be introduced at the Oct. 2 council meeting. The other two ordinances, the Chronic Nuisance and Aesthetic Ordinances, will be introduced at a later session.

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