Mount Airy has a new building-codes policy aimed at making it easier to deal with problem structures in the city, but its passage was anything but easy.
The International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) was adopted by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners last Thursday night 3-2, after some verbal sparring between the dissenting board members and Codes Officer Bill Beamer.
Commissioner Jon Cawley, who joined fellow board member Jim Armbrister in opposing the measure, called it an example of “government overreach.”
And at one point in the discussion while Beamer stood at a podium and fielded a barrage of questions from Armbrister and Cawley as the exchange grew tense, Armbrister objected to being interrupted by the codes officer.
“You’re a city employee, sir!” he told Beamer, who has served on a part-time basis (20 hours per week) since last August.
The 3-2 vote capped off several months of study surrounding the International Property Maintenance Code. It is a model set of guidelines embraced by other North Carolina cities which regulates minimum maintenance requirements for existing buildings, both residential and commercial.
Beamer says it will streamline the enforcement of existing minimum housing and lot nuisance ordinances, including for rental properties, which have been a concern among some citizens in recent years.
Along with adding commercial buildings to the mix — which Beamer said Thursday night would address two problem structures in particular, without naming those — the IPMC includes the establishment of a city property maintenance/inspections unit.
This won’t require the addition of personnel, but will allow that department to bring in outside resources when needed for special cases involving problem buildings.
The IPMC has been developed by professionals in the building industry, in conjunction with engineering and legal experts, according to Beamer. It is updated as needed and reflects current codes, he has said.
A vote on the new code policy originally had been scheduled for the May 3 council meeting, but was postponed because Beamer reportedly was out of town and would have been unable to answer questions concerning the proposal.
Board members made up for that at the meeting Thursday night.
Beamer stated then that the IPMC would not be significantly tougher than Mount Airy’s existing codes ordinance, which he has said reflects standards at the time it was adopted which are now out of date.
“It’s a mess and it needs to be fixed,” the codes officer said Thursday of that ordinance. But he said “the changes in the technical aspects are minor,” stressing that the new policy largely just streamlines procedures. “This gives us a gradual enforcement process.”
This caused Armbrister to question why the IPMC should be adopted, if it doesn’t differ substantially from present regulations to address problem properties. “You’ve got the tools (for that), right?” he repeatedly asked Beamer.
Commissioner Cawley also attacked a previous statement by Beamer that the minimum housing rules and lot nuisance/codes ordinances are not enacted to help the poor and benefit tenants. Instead, the concern is for adjacent property values.
After Beamer owned up to that statement Thursday night, Cawley said he didn’t agree with this approach, and the codes officer then responded that “a balance” is needed.
Cawley also asked Beamer if multiple complaints will still be required for enforcement measures, or if the codes officer will simply act on his own.
“This is mostly going to be, in my estimation, a complaint-driven process,” Beamer replied.
But Cawley and Armbrister were not convinced.
Cawley wondered why people just can’t be left alone, unless their property is a public nuisance.
“It’s one more example of government overreach,” he said in reference to the IPMC adoption.
Armbrister also questioned how much this will increase the municipal budget, with Cawley saying that enforcing the new codes likely will require more than 20 hours per week.
There has been some talk among city officials about making the codes officer position full-time.
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley, while voting in favor of the IPMC, expressed concern that once it was passed, board members might realize that it goes beyond what they wanted.
“Can we go back to the old school of doing things?” she asked regarding that possibility.
Beamer responded with his belief that the technical changes are minor.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.