Ames City Council directs staff on property maintenance enforcement


Photo by Katherine Kealey/ Iowa State Daily

Ward 1 Rep. Gloria Betcher, Ward 2 Rep. Tim Gartin, Ward 3 Rep. Anita Rollins and City Manager Steve Schainker during an Ames City Council meeting on May 10.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to correct the voting record.

The Ames City Council gave city staff direction on 19 proposed changes to property maintenance enforcement following public input, which will be reflected in ordinances presented to the council during the June 27 meeting.

Ames Fire Chief Rich Higgins said citations for property maintenance violations are not used often.

“The goal is not citation,” Higgins said. “The goal is to come into compliance through education.”

Ames Building Official Sara Van Meeteren said a citation is not like a standard ticket.

“I think there is a thought process out there that a citation is much like a parking ticket that we can just walk up and hand it to you,” Van Meeteren said. “That’s not the case.”

According to city documents, a violation can be determined after a complaint has been filed. Then city staff will educate the violator on how to become compliant. Ames’ internal policy is to send three notices with the last notice sent by mail. At that point if the issue is not compliant then a citation may be issued.

However, residents can appeal citations and Higgins said that a citation may not be given if the violator has a plan to get into compliance.

The following motions, which direct Ames city staff to add language to an ordinance to be presented during the June 27 meeting, were unanimously approved:

  • Language that prohibits plantings in the right of way from exceeding 12 inches within one foot of the street and sidewalk and allows city staff to require any vegetation creating a safety issue to be removed
  • Language that prohibits dangerous trees that pose a threat to the right of way
  • Language that prohibits accumulations of snow ice, mud, gravel, grass clippings, leaves, etc. from remaining on a sidewalk for more than 10 hours after the cause of accumulation
  • Language that prohibits holes from existing and clarifying exceptions
  • Language that prohibits refuse, garbage and junk from being stores for more than 72 hours
  • Language that prohibits stagnant water from remaining on a property for more than 48 hours with the exception of approved storm water management
  • Not include a section regarding vermin
  • Remove the 15 day prohibition on storage of operable vehicles
  • Language that prohibits vegetation that impedes ingress or egress
  • Language that requires structures to be free from significant structural defect
  • Language that prohibits unoccupied buildings from being unsecured and allows accessory structures to remain unsecured if the primary structure is occupied
  • Language that prohibits turf grasses from exceeding 12 inches in height
  • A process that establishes an appeal board and procedures
  • Authorize city staff to abate nuisances when not resolved through education and established enforcement procedures

The council voted 4-2 to include language that requires a 16 foot clearance over public streets and an 8-foot clearance over sidewalks and bike paths.

Ward 1 Rep. Gloria Betcher, who voted against the motion, said the clearance over sidewalks and bike paths should be 10 feet to align with the U.S. Department of Transportation standard Betcher added that the department’s sidewalk and bike path clearance standard is required to receive their funding on such projects.

Ward 2 Rep. Tim Gartin, who amended the proposal to 8 feet, said that would be federal overreach.

“It’s absurd to me that someone in Washington D.C. is going to tell us how to do our vegetation in Ames, Iowa,” Gartin said.

The council voted 5-1, with Betcher in opposition, to have no further discussion on leaving garbage receptacles at the curb.

“This is a tool to allow us to educate,” Betcher said. “If we don’t have the ordinance we don’t have the tool.”

The council voted 5-1, with At-Large Rep. Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen in opposition, to include language prohibiting graffiti from remaining for more than seven days after notification. However, if the property owner consents to the graffiti on their property, it does not have to be removed.

Additionally, the council voted 5-1, with Ward 3 Rep. Anita Rollins in opposition, to include language that allows RVs and trailers to be parked behind the front yard as long as they are on an approved surface and not used for habitation.

Gartin said someone who cannot afford to park their RV off their property may own a “crummy RV” that he will have to look at.

“I’m not sure how looking at a crummy RV is worse than looking at garbage cans out at the curb for two and a half weeks,” Betcher said.

Gartin motioned to have staff investigate size limitations for parked RVs on private residential property but the motion after failing to receive a second.

Also on a 4-2 vote the council will include language in the proposed ordinance during their June 27 meeting that prohibits snow and ice from being pushed onto the public street once the street has been cleared

Lastly, the council unanimously approved having city staff investigate resources that administer and fund homeowners assistance.