Brainerd residents might want to be a bit more vigilant when doing their spring cleaning this year.
The city will be putting in extra hours enforcing nuisance and zoning ordinances. That means people with piled junk, tall weeds and grass or vehicles in their yards more than likely will be paid a visit by the Brainerd Police Department's community service officers.
"The ultimate goal is clean, safer and livable neighborhoods -- orderly neighborhoods that attract less crime," said Brainerd Police Chief John Bolduc.
Nuisance and zoning violations the city of Brainerd will be policing:
Tall weeds or grass.
Garbage, junk and other items stored in yards or other areas outside of houses.
Vehicles not parked on improved, dust-free surfaces.
Houses that don't have address numbers displayed.
Inoperable or unlicensed vehicles on stored property.
Vehicles bearing "for sale" signs parked on a city street.
Vehicles being repaired outdoors and vehicles being repaired in a residential district for compensation.
Temporary structures, such as hoop houses.
Temporary signs without a permit.
Private signs placed in the public right-of-way.
Anyone wishing to report a possible nuisance or zoning violation can call Elizabeth Harris at the Brainerd Police Department at 825-3494. More information on nuisance and zoning violations is available at the city of Brainerd's Web site at www.ci.brainerd.mn.us.
"With people getting outside and doing things now is a great time to get the word out to the public," added Brainerd City Planner Mark Ostgarden.
Elizabeth Harris, Brainerd police crime prevention specialist, said the officers specifically will be looking for junk or debris outside houses, such as toys, bikes, non-working vehicles; garbage and other refuse; houses without address numbers on the outside; tall grass or weeds; and dilapidated appearance of the house.
Disguising a messy yard won't work, either.
"Covering debris and junk doesn't mean the issue is abated," Harris said. "In other words, a lot of people feel that a solution is to put tarp over it and it's not a solution."
Bolduc said the police department gets about two calls a day about nuisances. While not appearing to be many in a city of 14,000 people, it is quite an increase from just a couple of years ago when the department received no calls, he said.
Violation of the nuisance and zoning ordinance can be a petty misdemeanor, but both Bolduc and Harris stressed the city's goal is cleaner neighborhoods, not fines. If a nuisance violation is found, the police department will ask a property owner to fix it. If it is not abated, a $25 citation could be issued. A second offense would result in a $50 fine, a third offense a $100 fine. If all else fails a $200 fine and a court appearance could be the result.
"We do not cite people for code violations without first talking to them or sending a letter" of warning, Bolduc said. "Our goal is compliance, not fining residents."
Beginning in April the Brainerd police community service officers started conducting systematic inspections of all of Brainerd to seek out nuisance and zoning violations. Bolduc said about 40 problems have already been mitigated.
The police department also is relying on people reporting possible nuisance or zoning violations. Harris said Brainerd residents should report violations in the city limits to the police by calling 825-3494.
Also subject to increased enforcement are zoning violations.
Ostgarden said the biggest violation is residents parking on unimproved surfaces. Ostgarden said vehicles must be parked on an improved, dust-free surface such as a bituminous or concrete driveway. Parking on grass or even a dirt driveway is not allowed under the city's zoning ordinance, he said.
It is a violation to park inoperable vehicles, even on private property; to park on a city street for the purposes of camping or living; to park on a city street without a time limit for more than 48 hours; to park buses or other commercial vehicles, idling or with the engine off, within the public right-of-way in all residential districts unless loading or unloading; and to park a vehicle on any street with the purpose of displaying it for sale.
Another common violation of the city's zoning ordinance in Brainerd is the use of temporary structures, often hoop houses, Ostgarden said.
Zoning ordinance violations aren't solely found in residential areas. Ostgarden said a majority of businesses with temporary signs are also in violation. The city of Brainerd recently adopted an ordinance allowing businesses to obtain a permit for a temporary sign. The permit is good for one month, and businesses can obtain a permit three times in a calendar year.
The problem Ostgarden has noticed is that none of the businesses have been issued permits and none of the temporary signs have been taken down.
"Every one of those temporary signs is illegal," Ostgarden said. "It's an enforcement impossibility. The amount of paperwork needed to enforce that ordinance can't be adequately done unless we have more staff."
Ostgarden has asked city council members to drive around Brainerd and note all the temporary signs they come across. Real estate signs also are often in violation of the zoning ordinance, Ostgarden said. Any sign on private property, including garage sale signs, must be placed out of the public right-of-way. He estimated that to be 10-12 feet from the curb.
A violation of the zoning ordinance is a misdemeanor crime, punishable with up to a $500 fine or 90 days in jail.
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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