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Culpeper town council discusses Virginia Maintenance Code

The Culpeper Town Council will follow up its regular July meeting last week with a retreat Thursday in the council meeting room at 400 S. Main St. The retreat begins at 4:30 p.m.

At its regular meeting, several issues came up that are expected to see further discussion at the retreat.

One key item is a decision by council whether to adopt the Virginia Maintenance Code.

At the council meeting councilmen Billy Yowell, Dan Boring, Dave Lochridge and Jim Risner all had comments about the code.

“We have had a lot of complaints we can't address with the current town maintenance code, since they are not in the code,” said Patrick Mulhern, town planning director, in introducing the discussion. “A lot of those complaints relate to failing systems. If (the problems) don't rise to the level of a safety hazard we can't do anything. This would be another tool in our toolbox to maintain the town.”

Mulhern said currently when a code violation is found the town issues a courtesy letter to the property owner explaining the violation and giving them a reasonable time to fix the problem. He said at least two-thirds of the property owners comply voluntarily after receiving the letter, and no citation is needed.

Mulhern said that if the council adopts the Virginia Maintenance Code as its own, enforcement wouldn't be “onerous.”

“We could make it completely complaint driven,” he said.

Some councilmen expressed concern about the potential for inspectors to have the ability to go into people's house to look for problems.

“You're only allow to go into places where you are allowed to be or invited to be,” said John Walsh, the property maintenance official with the city of Fredericksburg,, who spoke to the council. “Otherwise you have to get an administrative search warrant from a magistrate and I've only had to get two of those in 14 years.”

“I do have some problems with what I read in the ordinance (regarding the code),” said Yowell. “I have always been a proponent of less government and I'm going to have to be convinced why we actually need this.”

Boring, a former Culpeper chief of police, said he had a different perspective.

“I think it helps our community to have things like (those the code addresses) repaired in a timely manner,” he said. “Everybody's property values go up if property isn't maintained. My concern would be the process of enforcement. I would like to see plenty of opportunity for the public to comply voluntarily.

“I think we are putting the cart before the horse here, though. I would rather have had a full-bodied discussion before starting through the first reading process.”

Risner said he'd take credit for starting the process.

“I think there's an educational process with the public here,” he said. “Like Mr. Yowell, I'm not a proponent of more government, but property rights cut both ways. If my neighbor is allowed to let his or her property deteriorate that affects my property and the town tax base.”

Mayor Chip Coleman said he felt this was, indeed, an instance where putting the cart before the horse might be the best way to go about things.

“Other times we've voted on some things and then had citizens coming to us (with issues),” he said. “Maybe getting out the information first and then having time to interact with each other might be beneficial.”

Walsh said that he helped write the code and also teaches some of the classes necessary for an inspector to be certified to enforce it.

“I don't look at this as increasing government (intervention),” said Walsh. “I look at it as filling in holes that you don't have the authority to touch now.

“After the initial training, inspectors would continue to receive ongoing training at the local level. Bob Orr is a very good building official in Culpeper. So you would have a leg up on the maintenance code. It can be as aggressive or as passive as you desire it to be.”

Look for more interaction Thursday as Coleman noted in a message via Facebook: “We will have discussion of the code at our retreat and I can assure the public there will be much discussion of the subject of how to enforce this code if it is passed.”

Other items on the agenda for the retreat include: the 2012 financing plan, use of the third floor council/committee meeting room for monthly council meetings instead of the board of supervisors meeting room where they are currently held, a discussion of the parking authority and road projects, including the Inner Loop and Route 229 widening.

Also last week the council approved the a revised landscaping plan for Waters Place, the development downtown near the Depot. The streetscape concept will require trees to be planted “at grade” (in the ground) rather than in planters and adjusts the requirement for the awning on the buildings, which Maynard Sipe, a land use attorney from Charlottesville working with the developers, called “appropriate for this building.”

Three-term councilman Mike Olinger, 40, who was re-elected to a fourth term in May, was chosen unanimously by the council to replace Billy Yowell as vice mayor.

“I am very excited to have been chosen by my fellow council members to serve as the vice mayor of our great town,” said Olinger via Facebook after the meeting. “It is truly an honor to have been chosen. I will continue to work hard for the citizens that re-elected me and I'm always available to my constituents.”

At the council meeting Coleman called Olinger his “new right-hand man” and in a followup comment via Facebook added, “It was Mike's time. He has worked hard and brings a young an experienced mind to help (me). I love his energy.”
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