City facing decision on building codes

By Tom Joyce -
Beamer -

Mount Airy officials are scheduled to vote on an issue Thursday which could drastically alter the local landscape where building codes are concerned.

Problems surrounding substandard housing and lot nuisances have been a constant topic for city officials in recent years, which have led to a proposal to adopt a tough new set of guidelines.

The issue involving the International Property Maintenance Code is scheduled to be considered by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners during its next meeting Thursday at 2 p.m. The code is a model set of guidelines embraced by other North Carolina cities which regulates minimum maintenance requirements for existing buildings.

“It is significantly more tougher than our existing ordinances,” Bill Beamer, the city’s part-time codes enforcement officer, said during the board’s last meeting on April 19 when a public hearing was conducted on the matter.

Beamer, who has been on the job since August, replaced another part-time codes officer, Steve May, who worked here a limited number of days each week through the Benchmark firm that supplies planning-related services to the municipality.

There were complaints from some citizens, and Mount Airy officials, that May was not tough enough on errant property owners, especially repeat offenders, in enforcing city codes.

Beamer said that after hearing such criticisms and evaluating what occurred with May, he reached the conclusion that “he did all he could do” under present guidelines.

“To keep on doing the same thing is to get the same result,” the codes officer told the commissioners.

“If it is your will to have a different result, then we’ve got to find a different way to do it,” he said. “The solution I have come to…is the International Property Maintenance Code.”

Beamer said it is developed and updated as needed by professionals who do inspections-type work all over the U.S.

One of the major differences between the code and existing local regulations in a nutshell, Beamer said, is it would expand city inspection authority to all buildings in town, not just residential structures.

In addition to adding commercial locations to the mix, adopting the international code would establish an inspections department, which while not requiring extra personnel would add the ability to bring in additional manpower for special cases.

“It streamlines the enforcement process,” Beamer added regarding the code. He said the board of commissioners would be the “final arbiter.”

Citizens skeptical

During the recent public hearing, local residents largely were leery of the new guidelines being proposed.

Paul Eich, for one, said it should be stressed to everyone’s understanding that the code would apply to commercial buildings as well as housing.

In addition to increasing the enforcement responsibilities “tremendously,” Eich fears businesses might be targeted because they don’t look nice enough. He specifically mentioned the South Street area, where some longtime commercial sites became swept up in a controversial redevelopment effort involving plans to create a gateway to downtown Mount Airy.

That movement ultimately was derailed after the 2015 municipal election, after creating much concern on business owners’ part.

“So I urge you to be very careful,” Eich told city officials.

James Slate, a property owner in the city, is worried that the new ordinance structure would serve to lump everyone together in enforcement actions, including fines for violations of building codes. “The ones that are trying (to make improvements) and the ones that’s not trying,” he said.

“There are different situations with different people” which should be taken into account, Slate commented. “Sometimes I think we need less ordinances.”

Suzanne Settle, a West Lebanon Street resident who has long been concerned about housing conditions there, dislikes both the city’s existing ordinances and the International Property Maintenance Code she believes focuses too much on commercial structures.

Another citizen, Regina Edwards, said during the public hearing that the value of property she owns has declined because of the condition of other sites.

It doesn’t matter to her whether guidelines are called international or local, Edwards said. “It’s just important that the codes are enforced.”

Under present regulations, there are problems with rental properties not being fixed up between tenants as they move in and out, according to Edwards.

She believes there should be room for “mercy” in cases where someone might be unaware of the rules and need help to comply.

However, Edwards says something needs to be done about property owners who are mindful of building codes “and have no fear.”

Police Academy graduates

Also during the recent meeting, graduates of the 2018 Citizens Police Academy were recognized.

The program, which recently concluded its 18th annual session, allows local residents to learn about Mount Airy law enforcement operations firsthand through a weekly series of classes beginning in early January.

Nearly 400 people have now completed the program, according to Police Chief Dale Watson.

Listed as recent graduates are:

Diane Barnett, Carolyn “Cookie” Boggs, Joyce Faye Brintle, Bretton Virginia Conyers, Barbara Jean France, Robert Fritchey, Josh Fritchey, Sonja Fritchey, Jennifer Megan Hull, Michael Alan Kehley;

Also, Jayna S. Lowe, Bristol Mitchem, Gray Parker, James “Allen” Poindexter, Jonathan Wayne Prater, Maria Danielle Sechrist, Jenny Benge Smith, Gary Dean Snow, Barbara Ann Steffy, John Whitney Steffy, Courtney Sanborn White and John Sidney Whitman.


By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.