Have you heard the one about how the Aberdeen City Council is going to impose a citywide Homeowner’s Association and force all the municipality’s residents to clean up their properties lest they be hauled off to court and fined into compliance?
While that description might be a slight exaggeration (perpetuated, perhaps, by a group of vocal opponents), the crux of the idea could soon become reality. Proposed Property Maintenance Ordinance 08-9 would extend Aberdeen’s “Livability Code” from just rental properties onto all structures and properties in the city and force owners to clean up their acts or pay the price.
In an email exchange Thursday, City Councilman Mike Hiob explained the purpose of the ordinance.
“Basically, it’s an extension of the ‘Livability Code’ that the City already uses for rental properties. This proposal includes ALL structures and properties. Many of the requirements in the ordinance are already codified in one way, shape or form. (Development Code, Builder Code, Livability Code, Etc.) This proposal combines many facets into one document and codifies the same. It’s about ‘raising the bar’ throughout the City. It will benefit everyone…even those that might have to fix or repair a violation or two. Like the old saying goes…’A Rising Tide Lifts all Ships!'”
Hiob, who said he’s in favor of the ordinance, with a few amendments he’s offered, said the Property Maintenance Ordinance would only affect a small portion of city residents and property owners.
“Take a drive or walk through any neighborhood in Aberdeen. What you’ll see is that the vast majority of our citizens maintain their properties and structures in a condition that would not warrant a code violation. For the exceptions that don’t, this ordinance will allow the City to respond in a reasonable manner, while allowing the property owner an adequate frame of time to make the necessary repairs.”
To resolve disputes, Hiob said a Citizen Appeals Board would be formed to serve as mediator.
“If disputes aren’t resolved at the appeals board stage, the final stage to settle a dispute would be in a civil court,” he added.
Unsurprisingly, Hiob said the city council has been receiving many inquiries regarding the proposed property maintenance ordinance.
“Personally, I have been taking calls and meeting citizens regarding this ordinance. In fact, from 4:00-5:00 pm earlier today, I met with a concerned gentleman from Edmund Street. Once the ordinance is thoroughly read and any misconceptions are clarified, I find that most reasonable folks are relieved,” he said.
Hiob went on to say Property Maintenance Codes are quite common and aren’t something that should be feared by the citizenry – as the intent is to improve the entire city and not impose strict regulations on residents.
“Aberdeen is not attempting to ‘invent or even reinvent the wheel’ with this ordinance. More accurately, we’re just attempting to ‘add some air to a low tire’,” he said.
Part of the fear and loathing toward the proposed Property Maintenance Ordinance might be coming from a calculated and concentrated effort to rebuff the measure, but a group of organized opponents.
“What I do know is that there is an organized campaign to defeat this ordinance. How many people are involved and who’s in charge is a mystery to me. One thing ‘they’ are doing is placing flyers under windshield wipers of vehicles parked in local shopping center lots. The flyer (and I have one of them) is chock-full of outright lies and intentional misinformation designed to get the uninformed or casually informed citizen fired up enough to contact Mayor Bennett and Doug Miller (their names and contact information is printed on the flyer),” Hiob explained.
The flyer calls the proposed Property Maintenance Ordinance “legalized government harassment” and questions if the measure is in the best interest of the city’s lower income residents or is being implemented specifically to make Aberdeen more appealing to New Jersey residents moving to the area because of BRAC – the base realignment that shifted their jobs to Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Hiob said the flyer is full of outright lies, including assertions that Aberdeen will be hiring a new inspector just to patrol for property maintenance violations and that the city could condemn and demolish a house before offering its owner any recourse.
The flyer is also full of irrefutable errors – it lists an incorrect day of the week for the city council meeting (there is no Monday, Oct. 28 this year and the ordinance isn’t even on the Monday, Oct. 27 agenda) and it gives the personal email address of former city mayor Doug Wilson instead of the email address of current mayor Mike Bennett.