HDC asked to enforce violation penalties

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Eureka Springs Building Inspector Bobby Ray spent almost an hour at the Nov. 15 Historic District Commission workshop detailing experiences in following up on Municipal Code violations.

He said first of all, there is a wide range of possible fines for violations that make it to court, the judge determines an actual fine, and often the fines were a “slap on the wrist.” He and District Judge Dale Ramsey agreed it would be useful if there were a set schedule of fines depending on various factors.

Ray said before he had his position, there was nothing set regarding fines except a minimum and maximum. He took on the task of going through Municipal Code to compile a fine schedule, but his workload prevented completing the task. He said the HDC should have this responsibility.

He noted that even if a cited person pays the fine, the violation might go uncorrected. His approach has been to speak with the person responsible for the violation and set a period, maybe 30 days, for rectifying the situation. If the violation is not corrected, he might issue another citation and allow more time, but on the third time the violator would get a summons to appear in court as a habitual violator.

However, Ray commented the violator might simply pay the fine and ignore the violation, although at some point the judge can impose jail time. Ray said there is only so much he can do before his hands are tied.

Chair Virgil Fowler asked if Ray were suggesting the commission should set the fine schedule and times for rectifying a violation. Ray replied it would be helpful, but it would still be a case-by-case decision. There are situations in which the person responsible for upkeep of a property cannot afford to do so. It might also be that the violator has medical issues and is unable to care for the property.

He also mentioned in one current case he told someone to rectify problems as soon as possible, but did not impose a time because of circumstances. He said it might appear to commissioners nothing is going on regarding a violation, but he “earnestly tries to avoid sending a situation to court.”

Ray said that recently a person did work on a property that was not approved by the HDC. He advised the violator to appear before HDC to see if the commission would approve the application. If the commission does not approve, the commission might set a timeline for compliance before a citation was issued.

He also mentioned there are cases when a person lives out of state and he cannot issue a citation, as well as cases encumbered by extenuating circumstances.

Ray suggested commissioners develop a fine schedule, such as work done without appearing before the commission or work done even if an application was denied. He also warned commissioners they should not assume a violator has received a written warning just because one is mailed or posted. He said he keeps a complete record of warnings he has issued so the police department has the information, and for use by future building inspectors.

Ray said a phone call or conversation clears up most issues, and “a fairly stiff fine would prompt action usually.”

He warned commissioners against filing a formal complaint by the entire commission because they would all be summoned to court if the case went that far. He reiterated there is no extra cost to the city if the quandaries never go to court. He added that Realtors should be more informative with prospective buyers about complying with the HDC guidelines where they apply.

During the regular meeting, commissioners approved these applications:

  • 211 Spring – remove two secondary chimneys
  • 105 E. Van Buren/2 Judah – demolition of shed and concrete bins; new construction: multi-family, lodging
  • 188 N. Main – replace main door

This item on the Consent Agenda was also approved:

  • 2100 E. Van Buren – new sign

Fowler presented this Administrative Approval which was an application for repair and work involving no changes in materials or color but which includes changes in roofing color:

  • 8 Armstrong – replace deck railing

After the conclusion of regular business, Catherine Barrier, Certified Local Government Coordinator for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, explained how locations are entered into the National Register of Historic Places and how AHPP administers it grants. She also explained programs for technical assistance and outreach and education to communities.

Next meeting will be Wednesday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m., in the Auditorium lobby. This will be the only HDC meeting in December.

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