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Public input requested in DeFuniak Springs blight ordinance draft process

Sep 5th, 2014 | 0

The DeFuniak Springs City Council and city staff are calling on the public to help them trim down the draft blight ordinance announced at the Aug. 25 council meeting.
If the comments on the Herald’s Facebook page are any indication, public reaction to the draft ordinance, uploaded in its entirety to the city’s website last week, has been largely negative. The draft includes several unpopular provisions, prohibitions of chipping paint, rust and untreated boards on exterior surfaces of buildings among them. Code Enforcement Officer Jason O’Daniels agreed that the draft is “all-encompassing,” but the real problem is not in the draft itself but in how it was presented – not as a list of suggestions for discussion purposes only, but as a proposed ordinance ready for adoption.
For his part, O’Daniels can understand the concern expressed by residents. The draft, as it currently appears on the city website, ended up being copied onto an ordinance and signature letter page by mistake after leaving legal review, which gives the impression that it is soon to go up for approval.
“It looks it’s ready to be voted on, but it’s not,” O’Daniels said. “That’s why there are asterisks and draft watermarks in the original. This whole thing was just for discussion purposes only.
“By no means is the city trying to be a homeowners’ association. It was made to be all-encompassing so that it could be cut down to fit the city. We want it to be a benefit to the city, not a hindrance or a burden to our residents.”
O’Daniels received a slew of letters, emails and questions via social media regarding the draft ordinance since last week, and he has already taken steps to present a new version of the draft to the city attorney and then to the City Council in time for the next meeting. Included in the revision is language that exempts property occupied by its owners, as it provisionally applies only to abandoned, partially destroyed or unoccupied buildings left for “unreasonably long periods of time” in a state of partial construction. Also included in the revised draft are supporting definitions taken straight from Florida State Statutes regarding public nuisances and related penalties for such violations.
The language included in the original draft comes from a conglomeration of rules and regulations from other municipal governments and from the International Code Council, a nationally recognized organization. The point of the draft was to start a public discussion with the end result being an ordinance that best suited DeFuniak Springs’ concerns with regard to preservation and maintenance of buildings throughout the city.
“It’s always easier to trim down than to add on later down the road,” O’Daniels said. “Hopefully this new draft will be looked and get more feedback, and sooner or later we’ll get an ordinance that everybody would like to see.”
City Councilman Mac Work agreed with that sentiment, saying the Council has no intention of passing the ordinance as-is. Instead the City Council will use the draft and feedback on it to give the board members a starting point from which to craft a more appropriate ordinance.
“What we really want is feedback from the community,” Work said. “We are where we are now because we, as a city, have nothing on the books to deal with [the issue of blight]. Everyone seems to agree that something needs to be done about it, but we don’t have anything to go by until now. [The draft ordinance] is just a blueprint to have something to go by at this point in the discussion.”
The city pushed back the date for taking comments from the public to Sept. 17 to give people more of a chance to make suggestions on the future finalized ordinance. A copy of the full draft ordinance is available for public review at http://defuniaksprings.net. Comments, concerns and suggestions should be directed to O’Daniels, who can be reached by phone at (850) 892-8500 or via email at codeenforcement@defuniaksprings.net.

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