In a work session before the Sept. 25 meeting, Councilmembers and staff discussed for 45 minutes the possibilities for beefing up zoning violation enforcement.
Planning and Zoning Administrator Mary Ellen Wines showed in a PowerPoint presentation what Council might adopt to give more teeth to ordinances concerning property owners who park vehicles in front yards, lack of property maintenance, vacant buildings, residences that are in disrepair and other conditions.
Community and Planning Administrator Chuck VanAllman told Council there is already a provision that allow five or more citizens to petition the circuit court to investigate whether an activity constitutes a nuisance.
In the case of spot blight abatement, VanAllman said the city could send a notice to property owners, and if the owners fail to correct the situation, the city could proceed to repair or acquire the blighted property through eminent domain.
“Salem could adopt the Virginia Maintenance Code,” he said. If adopted, the city can go to a magistrate for right of entry.
In the case of vacant properties if they are vacant for more than 12 months, the owner should register them as vacant – if the city adopts the maintenance code, VanAllman explained.
He showed a list of unsafe structures compiled starting in 2016. Nineteen of those have been torn down, he said.
Vice Mayor Jim Wallace asked about the former brick plant on West Main Street. VanAllman said there had been signs of vagrant habitation, and so the matter is going to the Salem Board of Appeals.
One of the difficulties in enforcing code violations in Salem, he said, is the city needs additional employees in that field. According to a chart, Salem is the second lowest of surrounding jurisdictions in the number of building officials, zoning officials and other code enforcement personnel.
Assistant City Manager Rob Light said he would make copies of the PowerPoint presentation available to Councilmembers. Mayor Renee Turk told staff, “We want to put teeth into what we adopt.”
Council will revisit zoning violations and possible fixes at future meetings.
In the regular Council meeting, Council heard citizen comments from three residents of the 1200 block of Missouri Avenue who are concerned about vandalism and theft related to a particular resident of a neurorestorative group home for people with brain injuries.
- Carolyn Fettison said her home was broken into and jewelry, watches and money were stolen. An across-the-street neighbor took pictures of the subject outside the Fettison home, she said. “He wanders the street unattended,” Fettison said. Police have been called numerous times, she said. She asked the city to consider doing something ranging from asking staff to put an ankle monitor on the man, possibly installing a gate that could not be opened by residents or removing the resident from the group home and place him in a better facility. The other two neighbors who spoke on the same subject were Lynn Price and Sarah Elmore.
- In other matters, Rachel Thompson and three people spoke in favor of Thompson, one of six candidates for the Salem School Board. Chairman David Preston’s term will end in December, and he is not asking to be reappointed. Thompson, an immigration and adoption attorney and business owner, pointed out she has three children in Salem Schools and a younger child. “I feel it is important that school board members have children in Salem Schools,” she said. With 14 percent of Salem’s population African American and 6 percent Hispanic, Thompson said she believes the School Board should reflect with some minority members.
- The others who have submitted application letters for the School Board seat are Chelsey Dyer, Dr. Tom Fame, Ray Varney, Bill Gerrol and Angel Lane. They did not speak, and Councilmember Randy Foley pointed out candidates do not have to speak at the public hearing.