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New rules for nuisance properties

JACKSONVILLE — Party houses in town will have to play by a new set of rules that will make it easier for authorities to close them down for six months to a year.

A chronic nuisance property ordinance approved by City Council Tuesday will give authorities a new tool to control unnecessary noise, alcohol violations, discharge of firearms, controlled substance manufacture and delivery, and other activities that may disrupt neighborhoods.

“It’s not as if Jacksonville is a hot-bed of activity,” Police Chief David Towe said prior to the meeting. “It’s really more about livability and making sure the citizens are playing by the rules.”

Towe said there have been only a couple times in recent years when the ordinance could have been used. Despite the relative lack of nuisance properties, they can become an ongoing aggravation for neighbors.

Two years ago, an owner abandoned a property in foreclosure but a teenage girl remained in the residence and hosted activities that disrupted the neighborhood, said Towe.

“We just didn’t have the tools necessary to remove the people from the house,” Towe told the council. “It’s pretty clear to me this resident didn’t want to play nice with the neighbors.”

Mayor Paul Becker said nearby residents voiced their concerns to him.

“The neighbors were living in fear,” said Becker. “Our hands were tied.”

Provisions in the ordinance allow declaration of a nuisance property for harassment, intimidation, disorderly conduct and assault or menacing.

A neighbor who complained ultimately gained control over the house from the owner and was able to evict the people there.

The ordinance is patterned after one in Medford, said Towe. He consulted with Medford police officials, and a city attorney reviewed the document.

Under the ordinance, a person in charge of a property that draws two or more nuisance reports would receive notice of possible actions and the chance to propose measures to fix the problem.

A third nuisance report can lead to declaration of a chronic situation and citation into court, but corrective actions could postpone legal proceedings. Property owners would also be notified at that point.

Municipal Court could find a person in violation of the ordinance. The court can impose fines up to $1,000. In addition, the court can order the property closed and secured for as long as a year.

“When I read this I thought this was overkill,” said Councilman Paul Hayes, the lone vote against the ordinance, which runs 5½ pages.

Councilman Owen Jurling asked whether the ordinance could be used against bars or the Britt Festival. Towe said it could, but that establishments usually are quick to act when made aware of issues.

“Ultimate, I hope we don’t have to use this,” said Towe. “This is pretty steep.”

In other business, the council approved Mayor Paul Becker’s proclamation naming Larry Smith to the honorary position of city historian. Smith is frequently called upon for information due to his extensive knowledge of city history. He taught at Jacksonville Elementary School.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.