Livability ordinance still alive, barely

  • Thursday, May 23, 2013

A county livability ordinance that was nixed last year is fighting for life behind the scenes, with its author determined to see its passage.
Members of the committee in which it resides, however, are skeptical of the need for such an ordinance.
Councilman Larry Hargett introduced the idea of a livability ordinance during his tenure as council chairman in 2011 and 2012.
As a first step, he brought forward a noise ordinance, a seven-page document meant to replace the scant four sentences in the current code.
That ordinance made it through the first two readings but was tabled last summer.
Now, Hargett is working with neighborhoods in the lower part of the county to pull together an ordinance that would address issues like noise, barking dogs, parking in subdivisions, burning leaves and more.
Many people have contacted him and are concerned they can’t peacefully enjoy their property, he said.
He gave as an example someone who decides to work on his car and pulls out the subwoofers and now “everybody else has to listen to their crazy music while they’re out there working on their car.”
Norman McDonald, president of the Archdale Civic Association, said he was inundated when he sought tales of “livability” problems from residents.
“There are some people who live next door to idiots, and their life is just miserable,” he said.
There is a definite desire from residents for the county to “fill the gaps” in homeowners’ associations’ covenants and restrictions, he said.
Councilman David Chinnis, however, said HOA covenants should be sufficient. A former HOA president himself, he said it comes down to the willingness of an HOA board to enforce its rules against neighbors.
If someone doesn’t comply, the board can fine the homeowner and eventually place a lien on the property, he said.
Easier said than done, said McDonald. He cited examples of homeowners flouting rules because a lien would “never fly in court – everybody knows that.”
Further, many neighborhoods have weak or nonexistent HOAs, Hargett said.
Councilman George Bailey, who represents Archdale and chairs the committee tasked with the ordinance, said the committee would consider the issue after council gets through the budget process.
He’s already gotten copies of ordinances from the 13 other counties that regulate noise and nuisance, though only one, Charleston, has a full livability ordinance, he said.
Though he promised consideration, Bailey wasn’t necessarily enthusiastic about the idea.
“I have a hangup on telling people what they can and can’t do with their lives,” he said.
Chinnis also sits on the committee, along with Councilwoman Carroll Duncan.
Councilman Jay Byars said such an ordinance could open a Pandora’s Box, pulling the county into disputes between neighbors.
And people who live in neighborhoods without HOAs often chose those neighborhoods specifically for that feature, he said.
The county has already been pulled into a neighborhood dispute in a case that helped spark Hargett’s interest in livability issues.
The case of the barking dogs – or not-barking dogs, depending on whom you ask – started several years ago.
It flared up again in April, when Hargett brought a resident to a council meeting to complain about the noise from the dogs of two neighbors.
Chinnis followed up the next meeting with one of the dog owners, as well as Animal Control incident reports documenting a lack of noise.

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