Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

August 2, 2013

Trashy property plagues city

The first in a three-part series on cleaning up the city focuses on what officials do with eyesores.

TAHLEQUAH — Ask residents or visitors what they think of Tahlequah, and many will comment on its natural splendor.

While the city lies in some delightful terrain, it must also deal with such issues as  litter and eyesores, and many people believe steps can be taken to make Tahlequah even more beautiful.

“I would like to see the city’s natural beauty enhanced,” said Diane Weston, Ward 1 city councilor. “In some ways, I don’t believe we take full advantage of it.”

Where roadside debris is a concern, many local organizations or the Oklahoma Department of Transportation work to keep area highways clear of litter. On Tahlequah’s streets, residents often pick up trash that finds its way into their yards.

Voices in city government believe the best way to further beautify Tahlequah is property maintenance. Weston would like to see more attention paid to rental properties.

“To the north of Northeastern State University, we have so many apartments and rental houses,” she said. “There are some who want to build more. Some of them are in disrepair. I have personally contacted landlords, and some have told me they never check on the property as long as the tenants pay. As a result, they don’t know anything is wrong until they are contacted by the city.”

Abandoned buildings         a big problem

Chris McClure, city compliance officer, ranks abandoned structures as one of his most serious concerns.

“Abandoned houses have usually been foreclosed,” he said. “Often they are in some sort of due process. That can drag out the process of doing something about them. They are something I would like to see cleaned up because they are prone to vandalism, fire, and people get hurt in them.”

Weston said the council and mayor’s office are researching potential updates to ordinances to encourage property upkeep. One possibility is to include subcategories within current zoning classes. Others may address rental structures, the number of unrelated people who can live in a house, and parking space availability.

“I will say dealing with property ordinances is a lot harder than I thought,” Weston said.

“You can’t just cut and paste what one city does and put it on Tahlequah. We want any new codes to meet the current standards within the city charter. I support the mayor [Jason Nichols] and the council, and we are all on the same page, but this will take a while.”

Tahlequah reserves the right to abate, or remove, buildings deemed dilapidated at the owner’s expense. City ordinance defines a dilapidated building as a structure in a state of decay or ruin; unfit for human habitation; unsecured; boarded and secured; or declared a public nuisance by the abatement board. Structures on agricultural property, such as barns, are exempt.

A building might be reported as a fire hazard or detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare. Owners are given 10 days’ notice, during which they may agree to remove buildings themselves, consent to removal or appeal to the city council.

If an owner consents or loses an appeal, the city will determine the cost of abatement and charge the owner. Fees not recovered within six months can be filed with Cherokee County as a lien against the property.

Though he figures few people are happy to see him on their doorsteps, McClure said most citizens are understanding of the city’s concerns.

“It isn’t like they don’t realize there is a problem or they don’t care,” he said. “Often they are not in a position to deal with it, say, for financial reasons.”

Weston said the goal of the council is not to create a gated-community, neighborhood-association climate in the city.

“We have to walk a fine line,” she said.

“Of course, we want property kept up and trash removed, but we also want Tahlequah to be a welcoming city where people want to live. Some cities have very restrictive ordinances, telling how many trees you can or must have in your yard. We don’t want to do that. We want people to have latitude on their property and feel comfortable.”

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