Fight the blight

Police working to eliminate blight in city

MANISTEE — Outside his kitchen window from his home on 10th Street, Mark Wittlieff can see a foundation for a chicken coop in disrepair.

“The east wall has broken off and the south walls are caving outward. It’s a safety hazard now,” said Wittlieff, a Manistee City Council member. “It’s not because of the renters. It’s past its age and it’s a danger to the kids that are around this neighborhood.”

This decaying structure falls under the category of blight, which Manistee Police officer John Fraass defines as anything that lowers an affected property’s value or that of any surrounding properties.

“It could be the structure itself, and if it’s the structure itself, the blight would be any structure that doesn’t have a very good roof, or siding, or exposed wood, or missing windows or missing doors,” said Fraass, the police department’s blight officer.

The City of Manistee’s bi-annual spring trash haul, which began last week and continues until April 27, allows residents to put their rubbish and trash on their respective curb for pickup.

“We’re trying to get the word out that you can avoid all this by putting it out on the curb and then the city pays for the pick up,” Fraass said.

He has been working overtime sending out blight letters of intent, which give those who receive them seven days from the date the letter is sent to clean up the blight in question or face receiving a civil infraction ticket.

A civil infraction for blight falls under city ordinance 202.99 General Code Penalty, where a $100 fine is imposed for a first-time offense, and a $500 fine and the possibility of 90 days in jail, or both, for each offense afterward.

BY THE NUMBERS: 

The City of Manistee Police Department dealt with a variety of blight complaints in 2015, according to its annual report:

  • 51 instances of junk vehicles
  • 15 investigations of storage of trash and debris on property
  • 13 blighted structures investigated
  • 5 buildings demolished
  • 3 civil infractions issued 
  • 2 investigations leading to court proceedings
  • 2 vehicles impounded

He often deals what he calls “problem houses” where many blight letters of intent are issued.

“I just issued a fourth letter to a house for a blight,” he said. “They clean it up to avoid going to court or paying any more fines and then two months later, it would be back to the same. That’s usually with stuff in the yard.”

Since the police have taken over blight enforcement from the city building inspector’s office and Mark Niesen, Fraass has given about 40 letters of intent, but the amount given out this year would be higher.

Last March, the city council approved the transfer of building inspection enforcement provisions back to the State Bureau of Construction Codes.

MAJOR BLIGHT INVESTIGATIONS IN 2015:

  • 36 Clay St. – Building was condemned due to health and safety after discovering numerous propane tanks stored in the residence. A court ruling allowed the City of Manistee to have the residence demolished.
  • 1001 Kosciusko St. – Storage of a single wide mobile home on the property along with trash, rubbish or debris. The mobile home was removed from Manistee after the property was cleaned by its owners.
  • 600 Kosciusko St. – A cockroach infestation originated at the residence and spread throughout the neighborhood. The owner later agreed to cover the cost of exterminators to eradicate the infestation.
  • 259 Fifth St. – Blighted structure of abandoned greenhouses.

Last week, he said he issued at least 30 letters of intent in a two-day period however, up to now, he has not worked overtime to focus on blight.

Fraass said the push for blight enforcement is due to it “getting a little out of hand”.

“Before, when Mark Niesen did it … he had his whole day to focus, not on blight itself but essentially on that type of environment and he worked Monday through Friday,” he said. “I work 12 hour shifts and I’ve been working nights so when we took over, we’ve been hitting the bigger stuff.”

Like with buildings last year, police are focusing more on yard cleanup this year.

“Just to try to get the property value up. A lot of citizens are complaining because it’s unsightly,” he said. “Owners of buildings who rent are complaining because nobody wants to come into that neighborhood and rent.”

Wittlieff is one of those citizens wanting bring greater attention to the issue, which he said is a defining factor in the city’s growth.

“We need everybody’s eyes to report blight,” Wittlieff said. “Combating blight will improve our community wholeheartedly because people will not want to relocate here if a substantial amount of the city as blighted. To increase our population and our revenue, we need to fight the blight.”

The spring trash haul is a positive to combat blight, he said.

“You see a lot of rubbish on the side of the road which is great,” Wittlieff said. “There are some that don’t take that step. It does help. Does it cure it 100 percent? No it doesn’t, but it does make a huge dent in it.”

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Posted by Sean Bradley

Sean is the city and cops and courts reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the entertainment and Reasons to Celebrate pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3109 or sbradley@pioneergroup.com.

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