"Though Police Chief Lynn Rowe said City Council had come up with the (nuisance) ordinance in order to deal with specific nuisance properties, Council was also reluctant to deprive people of their property without due process." - Community Free Press, DEC. 17, 2008 - JAN. 13, 2009 issue
In light of today's "Springfield News-Leader" article regarding City Attorney Dan Wichmer's letter and Reverend Rice's response concerning neighbors' allegations of misuse of the property at 806 N. Jefferson, or Veterans Coming Home, I felt the article I wrote for the "Community Free Press" regarding similar allegations might shed a bit of light on what the City is able to do or not do in the case of allegations of nuisance properties. Readers will find that CFP article below this entry. (And I have to wonder if neighbors of Veterans Coming Home are being made aware of how little the City can actually do to enforce the nuisance ordinance)
In the letter City Attorney Dan Wichmer wrote to Reverend Larry Rice, Wichmer referenced Springfield City Code sections 74-391 and 74-392. Wichmer noted, "Under these code sections, any property harboring a nuisance could be subject to closure for up to 1 year."
Wichmer then "strongly encourage(d)" Reverend Rice to stop activities not permitted and take action to eliminate activities which were a nuisance to businesses in the area. Wichmer wrote, "Failure to take corrective action will force the City to take action to abate the nuisance."
In the article attached readers will note, "According to City Attorney Dan Wichmer, as long as a landlord is working with the police department and there are no convictions, there is little the city can do under the ordinance."
The nuisance ordinance is very specific in describing the process by which the City of Springfield may close a property. One of the City's other options (under City Code) is to shut off utilities to that property for up to 1 year. The City really can't just go around closing properties based on neighbors' complaints, there is much more to it than that. For instance, before closing a property can even be considered notice has to be given and it must be given in very specific manner.
"JackeHammer" asked City Attorney Wichmer if there had been any notice of:
"...the illegal use, manufacture, keeping or selling of controlled substances" on the premises, and whether there have been any convictions related to "...the illegal use, manufacture, keeping or selling of controlled substances," (City code 74-391) where the initial arrest of a convict originated from the address 806 N. Jefferson Avenue, Springfield, Missouri
"...the commission of crimes, ordinance violations, or acts done, permitted, allowed or continued to the damage or injury of any inhabitants of the city," and whether there have been any convictions related to "...the commission of crimes, ordinance violations, or acts done, permitted, allowed or continued to the damage or injury of any inhabitants of the city" involving an initial arrest of the convict from 806 N. Jefferson Avenue, Springfield, Missouri (City code 74-392)
BY: "The chief of police or his designee," (City code 74-391) OR "The chief of police or director of health or other head of a department charged with ordinance or code enforcement or their respective designees?" (City code 74-392)
"No." City Attorney Dan Wichmer wrote in an email response. "My letter merely referenced the fact that if we found and proved violations that originated from 806 N. Jefferson, we would treat (it) as any other nuisance property and use all tools available. We are not, to my knowledge, anywhere near sending any sort of nuisance notice."
Later in the day, when questioned about why he sent the letter at this time, Wichmer wrote, "In Feb of this year, BDS (Building Development Services) sent him a letter advising of purported improper uses. This letter was in addition to a letter from HHS (Health & Human Services) stating that their inspection to be sure that he was complying with his stated uses for the building per his application to acquire the building revealed that he was not in complete compliance with his stated uses."
City Clerk Brenda Cirtin wrote in an email to JackeHammer that Director of Building Development Services Nick Heatherly, indicated BDS has "posted" Veterans Coming Home for a code violation. She is awaiting his reply about when it was posted and the nature of the violation, "I asked him when and what the violation was, but haven’t heard back yet," she wrote.
Wichmer said the reason he sent the letter is because Rice's local representatives had stated Rice wanted to know if there were any issues, "When he opened the center, Rev. Rice, through his local reps, stated he wanted to be a good neighbor (especially in light of the incidents he had at the Free Store, his facility near Jeff City and the stabbing in St. Louis) so if we had issues, please let him know," Wichmer wrote.
According to Wichmer, the letter was sent out 2 weeks ago. Indeed, it is dated November 23, 2009. Wichmer indicated Ron Moore, New Life Evangelical Center's on site manager and Dan Boyle, Rice's attorney, were very cordial in their responses, with Boyle stating, "he would make sure there was follow up on their (Veterans Coming Home) end." Wichmer indicated that because he had received such a cordial response from them, he thought the issue was behind him and being handled.
"He (Boyle) told me in the future to just call him or NLEC’s business manager if we received further complaints. I thought that ended the matter. That is why I stated that Rice was merely grandstanding yesterday," Wichmer wrote.
At any rate, it all seems much ado about nothing for the moment (unless one considers how unhappy some City staff and some members of the City Council were at the time Rice was awarded the building...and unless one has a suspicious mind that the City is setting the stage for going after Rice on a trumped up code violation while it appears to ignore code violations of others it finds less unsavory....)
JackeHammer has placed a call to the Reverend Larry Rice for comment and is awaiting his response.
From the DEC. 17, 2008 - JAN. 13, 2009 issue of the "Community Free Press:"
"West Central WOES
Area developers’ cries for help reach a high level of frustration."
By Jackie Melton
At a recent meeting at the Busch Municipal Building,tempers and accusations sometimes flared over vandalism, theft, drug use, and whether the city’s nuisance ordinance can be used to remedy recurring problems in Springfield’s West Central neighborhood. One thing was made clear by the attending city officials: there are not going to be any quick fixes to neighborhood crime in West Central or any other neighborhood in Springfield.
Carol Nachbar, a real estate investor and redeveloper who owns property in the area was frustrated over what she perceived as non-enforcement of the city’s nuisance ordinance.
Though Police Chief Lynn Rowe said City Council had come up with the ordinance in order to deal with specific nuisance properties, Council was also reluctant to deprive people of their property without due process.
“We can’t take a whole complex with just one violating apartment unit,” Rowe said. “If they’re [owners/managers] dealing with the issue, then that precludes using the nuisance ordinance to take that property.”
Due process is what has Nachbar and other West Central investors and homeowners asking questions. Nachbar balked when told that, without convictions of crime, the nuisance ordinance could not be enforced.
“These people are out there causing all this havoc and this chaos,” Nachbar said. “The police put them in their cars and they handcuff them and then, 15 minutes later, they let them back out of the police car. That’s the problem, they are not arrested in the first place.”
The Windermere Apartments, 1055 W. Walnut St., is at the center of the debate among West Central residents and property owners. Nachbar claims problems originating at the property are interfering with her ability to lease a neighboring property she owns.
According to the city Web site, the business license for 1055 W.Walnut is issued to Shorty’s Holding, LLC. The address for the owner is also the same address issued to Cars 4 U, a car lot on Compton Street owned by Kendall Hancock. Hancock could not be reached for comment, but a woman at Cars 4 U, who identified herself as only Angela, said she was the manager of Shorty’s Holding, LLC.
“I’m the manager and we don’t have a comment,” she said.
According to City Attorney Dan Wichmer, as long as a landlord is working with the police department and there are no convictions, there is little the city can do under the ordinance.
“I can assure you that I take you seriously, but you sitting there, indicating that I’m not doing anything, isn’t going to make me a whole lot happier dealing with you,” Wichmer said to Nachbar at the meeting. “I’ve pulled your properties, you’ve had disturbances, and you’ve had complaints. Do I shut your properties down?”
Rowe explained his department is following procedure and doing what they can under the law.
“Sometimes there’s enough [evidence] to pursue it and if there is, they go to jail every time, even though it is a revolving door and they go right back out,” Rowe said.
Another local developer and investor, David Rhodes, said, in the past, when there was more police presence crime had disappeared.
“If this issue serves one purpose, I hope it is that it will get more police on the street,” Rhodes said.
Jack Pugh, Rhodes partner in “B’s” Renaissance Renovations, LLC, identified himself and Nachbar as two of the top investors in the West Central area. Pugh lives in a home on Walnut Street that he and his wife remodeled with the intention of retiring there. His wife has since moved out, and they have purchased a new retirement home in Greenfield.
“After the two attempted murders at the rental operations next door, and our neighbor who was stabbed and left to die on our front steps by two thugs who felt they had a right to own his bicycle, she just gave up,” Pugh said. “It was just too close. She didn’t work all her life to have to live in fear.”
Pugh talked about several contractors and residents who have been victims of theft. Later, as he steered his car down Pershing Street, where he has redeveloped and assisted others in redevelopment of several properties, he pointed to his “crown jewel.”
“A young family bought that a year ago and now they’re moving out. They’ve been broken into four times,” Pugh said. “They’ve just given up.”
Suggestions offered by city officials for dealing with the nuisance properties didn’t offer any overnight solutions. Beyond continuing to file police reports, working with their Police Area Representative officer, or taking the personal initiative to sue a nuisance property owner in civil court, one of the few other suggestions was that residents become more involved in their neighborhood associations. It was suggested they start a “Neighborhood Team”program.
“Neighborhood Teams can set priorities and then we all work together,” Rowe said.
Jack Pugh had little faith that forming a Neighborhood Team was the answer.
“It’s attacking the problem at the wrong end.” Pugh said. “If we had a Neighborhood Team in place reporting on the Windermere Apartments, would anything have been done differently at this point? Would it have helped to have had 120 calls this year instead of 100? The answer is no. It’s the policies that the Neighborhood Team has to work under that are the problem.”
What is a Public Nuisance?
“Any place that is used for the commission of crimes, ordinance violations,or acts done, permitted, allowed or continued to the damage or injury of any of the inhabitants of the city after notice is given and the place continues to be used for the commission of crimes, ordinance violations, or acts done, permitted, allowed or continued to the damage or injury of any inhabitants of the city is a public nuisance.”
Source: Section 74-392.A, General Ordinance Number 5465 (Springfield’s nuisance ordinance)