Public meeting in Moroni tonight to discuss city cleanup ordinances

This property at the east entrance into Moroni used to be nicely cared for, says Moroni City Councilman Jed Demill. Then the owner died, new people moved in, and the yard went to weeds. The city council has schedule a hearing tonight (Thursday, Aug. 16) at 7 p.m. on ordinance changes to help give the city power to force owners to clean up such nuisances.

Public meeting in Moroni tonight

to discuss city cleanup ordinances


By Suzanne Dean




MORONI—The Moroni City Council will hold a public hearing tonight to get final public input before voting on several new or revised city ordinances designed to help clean up the town.

The public hearing will be at 7 p.m. in the Moroni City Hall at 80 S. 200 West.

Pending before the council is the city’s first-ever general plan and first-ever annexation policy. Both of those proposals consist of very general language designed to get Moroni in compliance with state law. Neither document is controversial.

In addition, the council is considering new ordinances on beekeeping and storage containers. And the council is looking at revisions to existing ordinances on travel trailers, abandoned and junk vehicles, animal keeping and small subdivisions.

Councilman Jed Demill, who is the council liaison with the city’s planning commission, has taken the lead in bringing ordinance drafts before the council.

The council needs to get ordinances in place “so we can start issuing warnings to some of these people and get some of this stuff cleaned up,” he said in April during one of the early council discussions of the ordinance drafts.

Controversy over penalties

            The city council went through the drafts for a final time on July 19. Probably the most controversial issue all along has been what penalty would be imposed on violators who received a warning but failed to clean up.

Currently, most zoning and nuisance code violations on the Moroni City books are Class C misdemeanors, which, under state law are punishable by a fine of up to $750. But Moroni fines are far less than that. State law also provides for up to 90 days in jail for a Class C violation, but no one in Moroni has ever been sentenced to jail time.

The rub is that Class C misdemeanors don’t require court appearances. Generally, a violator receives a citation. The person may be able to pay the citation and be out of trouble, at least for a while, without correcting the violation.

One of the main points in multiple city council discussions has been whether to bump the maximum penalty for failing to heed a warning up to a Class B misdemeanor, which, under state law, carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

Most important, a person charged with a Class B misdemeanor must appear before the judge in the city justice court. The violator can’t get off the hook until the judge verifies that he or she has corrected the violation. If the violator refuses to fix the problem, the judge can sentence the person to fines or jail.

Council supports Class B

            During the final review of the ordinances on July 19, council members appeared to agree by consensus to change the maximum penalty for all zoning and nuisance code violations from Class C to Class B misdemeanors.

“From the discussions I’ve heard you guys have been having, everybody’s a little worried about bringing somebody to court,” Tammy Larsen, the justice court clerk and a visitor at the July 19 meeting, said. “But if you don’t bring anyone to court, you don’t have anyone monitoring their progress.”

Typically, she said, a violator comes into court and pleads guilty. The judge gives the person 30 days to clean up his or her property.

“We go out, take pictures, they come back to court, and they’ve either cleaned it up or not..:” If the person is making progress, the judge may give him or her 30 more days to complete the work, she said.

Once the problem is corrected, the judge will typically dismiss the Class B misdemeanor charge, she said.. Only if the person refuses to comply would the judge sentence him or her to a big fine jail time.

“I know you’re a little worried about sending someone to jail. I’ve done this (been a court clerk) for 18 years, and I’ve never seen anyone go to jail over a city ordinance,” Larsen said.

‘Eyesore not a nuisance’

            Councilman Fred Atkinson, who has opposed stepping up penalties, continued to be dubious at the July 19 meeting. “Just because it’s a car or something somebody doesn’t like to look at doesn’t mean it’s a nuisance,” he said.

He said is supported a Class B misdemeanor for something that could harm someone, such as a vicious dog, “but for an eyesore, no.”

Councilman Orson Cook said that when the council first discussed penalties, he agreed with Atkinson. “But I’ve researched all the other cities, and the only way we can regulate it is by having Class B,” he said. Otherwise, a violation becomes a nuisance to the city government itself, he said, “because how do we make sure it’s cleaned up.”

New beehive ordinance

            At the July 19 meeting, the council completed drafts of two completely new ordinances. One is on beekeeping. It permits up to five hives on a residential property. If the property is a half acre, the owner can keep up to 10 hives.

Hives must be 15 feet from a road or sidewalk and 50 feet from a school. If the “flyway,” or general flight pattern of the bees puts them closer than 15 feet to the next property, the owner must construct a 6-foot fence or put in a barrier of dense vegetation.

Any existing beehives that don’t comply with the new ordinance are grandfathered in.

Storage containers

            The other brand new ordinance deals with storage containers, which are defined as large receptacles for holdings materials temporarily or long-term.

The ordinance says the containers must be used for storage and no other purpose, and must be kept in the back or side yards of homes, not in front yards. The area around the containers must be free of weeds and garbage.


Travel trailers, boats, boat trailers

            The city council also appeared to reach a consensus on modifications to four other ordinances. First, it revised an ordinance on “travel trailers, boats and boat trailers” to say that they can’t be parked on city streets.

Under the ordinance as drafted, boats and trailers can be kept anywhere on a residential property for seven days “if owned by bona fide guests of the occupant of the premises.” After that, they have to be parked in the back yard or at the side of the home.

The current ordinance doesn’t have any limits on use of travel trailers. The new draft says the longest anyone can live in a travel trailer is two weeks, unless the person gets a special permit from the city. And, the revised draft says, a trailer can’t contribute to a nuisance, such as being parked in a location full of weeds and garbage.

Animal keeping

            Another ordinance that has been rewritten deals with animal keeping. The old version said a resident could keep “no more than four horses per acre,” and “no more than six cattle, swine, sheep or goats per acre.”

The problem, Demill told the council, was the old ordinance was too vague. It did not say how many animals a resident could keep if he or she  had less than an acre. And it didn’t limit the number of buildings someone could have on an acre and still leave room for the animals.

The new draft permits one horse, cow or ox on a quarter-acre, but says the land must be dedicated solely to the animal. No structures or stored items are permitted.

For a pig, a resident needs a full acre, with no structures on the lot. A maximum of two pigs are permitted per property.

Under the revised ordinance, a Moroni resident can keep five sheep or five goats on a quarter acre if the land is devoted solely to the animals.

Junk cars

            The ordinance that has provoked the most discussion in various city council meetings is on “abandoned, wrecked or junked vehicles.” But the modifications being proposed do not change existing law very much.

It is still against the city code to have more than two vehicles visible on your property that are “wrecked, junked, partially dismantled, inoperative or abandoned.” However, a resident can keep non-working vehicles on his property if they are inside a building or concealed behind a fence.

The only change being proposed is a requirement that if someone wants to put up a fence to shield vehicles from view, the fence plan must be approved by the planning commission and city council to make sure the fence will be sturdy and opaque.

Residents can keep any number of vehicles visible on their property so long as they are licensed and in working order.

Small subdivisions

            Finally, the council is proposing a change to its small-subdivision ordinance to remove a waiting period between selling lots and then selling more lots.

The old ordinance said a person could only sell two lots within 18 months. The idea was to prevent someone from selling two lots, and then two more lots, etc., and thereby avoiding the requirements for a large subdivision, such as presenting a plat map, and installing roads, curb and gutter, fire hydrants, sidewalks and street lights.

The new draft allows a landowner to sell up to four lots at a time, so long as the lots front on a dedicated street. There is no waiting period before selling up to four more lots.

However, if a landowner wants to sell more than four lots at a time, or if he or she wants to divide land that isn’t already served by city streets, the seller must still go through the process for a large subdivision, including putting in infrastructure.

“We want to promote growth in our town,” Demill said. He said the old ordinance was impeding some lot sales that he believed would benefit the city.

Residents support cleanup

            Two residents who showed up at the June 19 meeting supported the city’s moves to clean up eyesores.

“I think it’s important to get these junk vehicles out,” Brad Aldridge said. “You might say, ‘Why do we need to do that?’ And the reason is your city ordinances state that they exist to foster an economic, cultural and social environment which will enhance the well-being of all citizens…

“It’s supposed to be a beautiful town,” he said. Junk cars “harm your neighbors’ ability to enjoy their property, for one, and to sell their property. It can harm them financially.”

Aldridge said the city has enough tools to enforce ordinances, whether the punishment is a Class C or a Class B misdemeanor. He said once when he was on the planning commission, the commission sent a note out in utility bills informing residents about ordinances and asking for voluntary compliance

“We didn’t have to cite hardly anyone,” he said. “That took care of probably 90 percent of the violators. Then we did have to sign some citations and cite people with a Class C misdemeanor.”

Craig Draper said as far as he was concerned, the “junkers sitting around” are eyesores. “When they’re full of skunks and everything, else, that threatens my health. my well being,” he said.

With new people moving into the community who may have higher standards than current residents, he said, the city needs to start enforcing its ordinances or “we’re going to have people going to the state health department (and) the EPA. When you do that, you open up a can of worms, big time.”