Jun 30, 2024

Two kinds of code, zoning vs. garbage: Bloomington man’s appeal of zoning citation set for this week

At least as far back as 2021, South Washington Street property owner and resident Joe Davis has been cited by the city of Bloomington for violations of city code.

There are two basic kinds of violation for which the city has cited Davis. One kind are citations under Title 6, for “garbage” that the city contends Davis has placed on his property. The other kind are citations under Title 20, for violations of the zoning code, which involves outdoor storage and backyard parking.

It’s the citations for Title 20 zoning code violations that Davis will be appealing on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in front of Bloomington’s board of zoning appeals (BZA).

Davis’s appeal of the Title 6 citations was postponed last week by Bloomington’s board of public works. The Title 6 appeal will be back on the board of public works agenda for Oct. 24.

Two vehicles and a trailer are parked in Davis’s backyard. Lumber, concrete blocks, dismantled metal scaffolding, and bathtubs, among many other items, are stacked and placed around the property.

Davis is a self-described “unconventional guy” who says he has been working to restore the South Washington Street house since 2009, when he purchased the property for $65,000. Davis has told The B Square that in 2007, two years before he bought it, the house was damaged by fire. The damage from the fire is visible on the eves of the front porch.

After the fire, the house had sat abandoned for two years. And during that time, all the pipes burst because there was no heat, Davis said. “Thieves came in and stole the wiring, and homeless people were living in there,” Davis said. Davis says he has tried gradually, room-by-room, to restore the house to some kind of decent shape.

Davis considers his property to be an active construction site. In February, he received a building permit to construct an accessory structure, which he says he will use to store many of the materials that are now placed around the property.

The city contends that the two vehicles and a trailer parked in Davis’s backyard violate the zoning code’s prohibition against parking on an unimproved surface. The city also contends that the materials placed on Davis’s property violate the part of zoning code that prohibits outdoor storage of equipment, materials, waste or scrap materials.

Thursday will not not be the first time that Davis has appeared in front of the BZA for similar citations—but those were just warnings. On Feb. 23 this year, the BZA denied Davis’s appeal of a warning the city had issued in 2022.

The “garbage” citations have been issued under Title 6, which is a different part of city code from zoning law. Title 6 is enforced by the city’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department. So Davis’s appeal of Title 6 citations does not go to the BZA, but rather to the board of public works.

After being put off twice by the city of Bloomington, Davis’s appeal of the most recent Title 6 citations was finally set to be heard by the board of public works last week, on Tues., Oct. 10.

Last Tuesday, the board started hearing Davis’s appeal, but wound up postponing the proceeding until its next regular meeting, on Oct. 24. Postponement was not achieved until after Davis had used more than an hour at the mic to argue about procedural matters, not yielding to the request of board president Kyla Cox Deckard to sit down.

There are different punishments available for violations of Title 6 compared to Title 20.

Under Title 6, one sanction available to the city is an abatement order, which can be granted by the board of public works. Such an order gives the city the ability to go onto someone’s property and remove the materials the city deems to be in violation of the city code. The city then bills the property owner for the cost of the abatement.

The city previously obtained such an abatement order for Davis’s Washington Street property. The city started the abatement in the second week of August.

But through appeals and a court circuit court challenge, Davis managed to run out the clock on the abatement order, which expired on Aug. 11. So the city has now started over with its Title 6 enforcement process.

The maximum penalty for the Title 20 violations involves fines, which are different for different Title 20 infractions.

One Title 20 notice of violation that the city has sent Davis is for allegedly having vehicles parked in his backyard on an unimproved surface [Section 20.03.030(e)]. The other Title 20 citation is for an alleged violation of a prohibition against outdoor storage. [Section 20.03.030]

The fines for the parking and storage violations are $50 per day and $2,500 a day, respectively. They escalate by doubling each day, up to a limit of $7,500 per day.

The department’s letter to Davis calculates two days worth of fines at $7,650. Davis has appealed the notices. It’s that appeal that is to be heard by the board of zoning appeals (BZA) this Thursday (Oct. 19).

During the appeal process, the city does not allow the fines to continue to accrue. Even with a cap of $7,500 a day, the $15,000 per day (covering both violations) would add up fast. Over the course of a month, the total would start to approach a half million dollars. That’s a lot more than the total assessed value of the property, which Monroe County records show is $126,900.

The board of zoning appeals (BZA) is a five-member group, consisting of: Jo Throckmorton, Barre Klapper, Nikki Farrell, Tim Ballard, and Flavia Burrell.

The Oct. 19 hearing by the BZA is set to start at 5:30 p.m. in city council chambers.

Photos: Oct. 10, 2o23 Bloomington board of public works appeal (Postponed)

Photos: Oct. 10, 2o23 Bloomington board of public works appeal (Postponed)Photos: Oct. 10, 2o23 Bloomington board of public works appeal (Postponed)Photos: Oct. 10, 2o23 Bloomington board of public works appeal (Postponed)Photos: Oct. 10, 2o23 Bloomington board of public works appeal (Postponed)Photos: Oct. 10, 2o23 Bloomington board of public works appeal (Postponed)Photos: Oct. 10, 2o23 Bloomington board of public works appeal (Postponed)Published