What is an abatement?
An abatement notice is served on the owner or occupier of a property on which there has been a complaint, warning of the city’s intention to enter the land in order to abate (or eliminate) the nuisance by city crews. The cost of this is assessed to the owner.
What constitutes violations?
The number of messy yard reports seems high, but City Sanitarian Austin LaViolette said after a dry winter, the wet spring caught people off guard. Grass and weeds grew at full tilt.
“This has been a focus,” he said.
Overgrown vegetation in the city limits is a violation of city Ordinance 15.70.
According to the city’s website, here is how violations are handled:
• The owner and/or resident of the property is notified and told that if the violation is not corrected the property may be abated. City Council approval for this action is not necessary. A violation is considered if vegetation at or above 1 foot tall.
If the property is in violation:
• The property owner will be sent a notice to abate by certified mail allowing 10 days to correct it. If not corrected, the city will mow the property at the owner’s expense.
• Photos will be taken before and after the abatement.
• Owners will be sent a bill for the abatement costs payable within 30 days, after which it will be assessed to the property taxes.
Trash and refuse
The accumulation of trash and refuse on a property is in violation of Ordinance 8.08.
The following items are considered trash and refuse:
• Household trash
• Automobile parts (including tires)
• Construction debris
• Tree debris and other yard waste
• Any debris that is capable of being a place for vermin to live and breed
• Scrap metal
If a property is found to be in violation, the owner will be notified verbally or in writing what the violation consists of, what has to be done to correct it, and the time frame the owner has to correct it.
If no movement has been done by the deadline, a notice to abate the property will be sent to the owner containing the date the violation will be discussed by the council.
Among the Great Bend properties abated by the City Council Monday night was former Highland Hotel (now known as the Great Bend Hotel and Convention Center), a local landmark that has fallen into disrepair.
Located at 3017 10th St., trash cans around the site are over flowing, weeds have been allowed to grow and other maintenance has not been done, City Sanitarian Austin LaViolette said. Even after city personnel and volunteer private citizens have fought back the vegetation, it is still an eyesore.
A member of the meeting audience asked what could be done about it. Sadly, officials said, not much at this time.
“I hate to see it go to waste,” City Attorney Bob Suelter said. But, unless it deemed “unsafe and dangerous” the city can’t do anything about the problem.
“It is private property,” Suelter said. “There is no legal authority for the city to act.”
In the meantime, taxes and bills owed on the property continue to go unpaid, city officials said. And, every time city crews mow, the cost for the work is assessed against the taxes.
“Hopefully it’ll get sold,” Suelter said. Although the old hotel may have to be razed, the site would be ripe for new development.
There are other problems: The swimming pool is full of standing, stagnant water; many windows have been broken out; items have been stripped from inside the rooms and outside walls; grass remains unmowed; and there have been homeless people squatting in some of the rooms.
The Police Department runs routine checks of the building to help curtail illegal activities, Police Chief David Bailey said.
But, nothing yet rises to the level of dangerous.
Still, the abatement is another step toward making something happen with the property. The city inspector and code enforcement officer will continue to monitor it.
If a structure is determined to be unsafe and dangerous, notices must be sent, a waiting period followed and a public hearing held before the city can proceed. However, should it be ruled unsafe, it could be the city that winds up having to have it torn down, Suelter said.
Those expenses would be charged to the owner, but may never be paid. “It would be nice to find a buyer first,” he said.
The city does own the Events Center next door to the hotel, Suelter said. Once a part of the hotel, it was purchased by a group of local donors and donated to the city.
The owner of record is Retreat at Great Bend LLC. LaViolette said they have not been very responsive, but have cordoned off the parking lot with steel cable and boarded up broken windows.