Kannapolis ready to step up code enforcement efforts

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 21, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — When Assistant Planning Director Kassie Watts came on board in Kannapolis in April 2012, she said that right away, discussions began about a code enforcement initiative.
At the January 14 Kannapolis City Council meeting, Watts gave a presentation on that plan, which she describes as part education, part enforcement.
Already, Watts said, stepped-up enforcement efforts depleted the original 2012-13 budget for the Code Enforcement division within six months.
The city recently approved an additional $20,000 worth of economic development funds for Code Enforcement.
And the city has hired a third code enforcement officer, whom Watts said is a former N.C. Highway Patrol officer, for full-time code enforcement operations.
It’s part of an overall, citywide effort to battle everything from illegal signs to underground businesses being run in residential neighborhoods.
“People call in constantly,” Watts said. Some of those calls are almost hard to believe.
Watts described a recent situation in north Kannapolis, where a property owner had purchased a goat which was then enclosed in a makeshift “fence” made out of trash and used tires.
For a gate, Watts said, the person used a broken big-screen TV set.
“That’s right here in the city,” Watts said.
Watts declined to name specific individuals, neighborhoods and businesses involved in this, and other, code violations. “We are not singling anybody out,” she said.
Instead, she said, the goal is to do a citywide sweep – examining different zones one at a time, documenting violations and working to address them.
For example, with regard to the goat, “Some people are unaware that you’re not allowed to have certain types of livestock in the city,” Watts said.
“People just assume it’s their property, they can do whatever they want with it,” Watts said.
Others drag trash out to the curb that the city’s contractor, Waste Management, Inc., does not collect.
“Like big, giant limbs, or electronics, or tires,” Watts said. “They don’t pick that stuff up (at the curb), it’s your responsibility to dispose of those.”
Although she didn’t focus on specific neighborhoods, Watts said that the larger number of code violations occur with rental properties in older parts of Kannapolis.
Last year, Kannapolis began acting to lessen the number of dilapidated buildings in the city with a focus on properties in the Carver community.
In July 2012, the City Council voted to order seven vacant buildings demolished, including a former church and a neighborhood store.
An eighth property owner got a reprieve until October to bring a vacant home up to code. When that didn’t happen, the council ordered it demolished as well.
Watts said the city is currently working with “several (owners of) dilapidated buildings in the City … to either repair or demolish those buildings.”
Because of the complex nature of the process, those take longer to be addressed – “sometimes months,” Watts said.
Among other things, staff must visit the site, document the condition of buildings and grounds, officially notify the property owners and give them time to correct the problems.
“Sometimes it’s hard to find an owner … or an heir. It takes time, and of course money,” Watts said.

One specific target of City Council comments has been a group of illicit home-based businesses.
Home offices and certain types of businesses are allowed, if they comply with the law.
The Code Enforcement website specifies that permitted businesses are generally “of an office nature, such as a low-key service business, with the use being primarily for administrative functions, such as receiving phone calls and mail.”
Outdoor storage of “tools, inventory, etc.” is specifically prohibited.
On January 14, Councilman Darrell Hinnant mentioned an auto repair shop that he had been told was being operated out of a homeowner’s garage.
When asked by the Post to give more information on that business, Hinnant declined, saying he believed the person who had reported that business to him would not want to be contacted by the media.
Watts said she and Planning Director Kris Krider had been made aware of “a few” such businesses.
“I would say it’s more like one or two, maybe three, over the course of the time I’ve been there,” said Watts.
One auto repair business in a residential area was turned down for a conditional use permit several years ago, but continued operating. “We’re working on putting that to a stop now,” she said.
Another resident was running a “mobile window tinting” business in his outbuilding, Watts said.
“We eventually had to talk to the property owner,” she said. “He was a renter.”
Once the landlord got involved, Watts said, the problem was solved.
The more common type of complaint, she said, involves other public nuisances: “Trash, debris and during the warmer months, tall grass and overgrowth complaints.”
Kannapolis has specific guidelines for acting on such complaints.
For instance, the Code Enforcement website specifies that growth of higher than 18 inches, or any accumulation of weeds or debris, is prohibited.
Overgrown grass is by far the most common complaint, she said.

Another nuisance that’s come up before City Council in recent years has been business signage.
Some businesses place illegal signs outside.
Others buy small foam or plastic signs and place them at busy intersections.
Those are illegal, Watts said, as are banners tied to guywires and other types of “distracting” signage.
Watts said gas stations and tax preparation services are among the more common violators of the city’s sign ordinances.
The roadside signs for one local tax business “are completely illegal,” Watts said. She declined to name the business in question.
Because, at the same time, Watts said, “It’s tax time.”
“And what we don’t want is a lot of pushback from business owners,” Watts continued, “calling City Council and saying, ‘I’m having a hard time the last couple of years, and you’re not even letting me put my signs up.’”
However, she said, “We will be reviewing all major corridors into the City for compliance with all zoning codes.”
That sweep will look at all aspects of the city’s ordinances, including signage.
Watts said she wants the initiative to produce results.
Signs are just one part of the overall effort, which she said was “a chance to help property owners and citizens to clean up their communities, not an effort to hinder commerce or pick on anyone.”
“We’ve got to change the culture around here,” she said.
One possibility she mentioned was partnering with local churches and citizen groups, holding clean-up days and the like.
“We want to get out there and participate,” Watts said.
“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.”
More information on ordinances and policies is available from the Code Enforcement Division by calling 704-933-5999.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.