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Code violations whittled down, tree house issue left undecided

Thursday, September 12, 2013

One of the more complex issues that any community faces is non-conforming code violations in the form of sheds, inoperative or unlicensed vehicles, unenclosed trash dumpsters, yards that look like junkyards, swimming pools without appropriate enclosures or gates with improper latches, fences in disrepair and tree houses that don’t comply with setback and/or height requirements.

You get the idea, and you probably know where a couple of problem areas are. Forsyth is not unique in this problem.

Since late last year, village staff has been sorting through the violations that at one point totaled more than 200. At the Aug. 19 meeting, Village Clerk Kathy Mizer updated the board on the Non-Conforming Registration File that was started last fall.

Of those violations, the actual number was 215, resolutions had been reached in 157 of the cases by the time Mizer spoke to the board. Mizer pointed out that the recent adoption of a new development ordinance would allow for 43 more violations to be resolved.

There are numerous examples of why the topic can be a head-scratcher to figure out. Some sheds, for instance, were grandfathered in and determined to be lawful if they were in place before March 1, 2012, on lots larger than 7,500 square feet. One shed on a corner lot had been in violation due to the way the language of the old code was written in defining a corner lot. Some clarification of the definition in the new code resolved that situation.

Then there is the issue of tree houses, which to deny them in the village would seem to some as unpatriotic. Mayor Marilyn Johnson, for one, kind of likes tree houses.

The mayor said she does not have a problem with tree houses. She said she had gotten a number of comments from people who also like them.

“They feel they have a right to build a tree house in their yard,” Johnson said.

Village Administrator Mike Miller said that technically the way the present code reads, anyone with a tree house would need to apply for a variance to retain it. The trustees had mixed opinions on the topic, but Mizer spoke about a specific tree house, noting that it was on a corner lot too close to the property line and built too high up to be considered conforming to code.

It was agreed after some discussion to hold off on the issue of tree houses for the time being but to follow up on swimming pool violations and another case of a two-story home that does not have a landing. Both those issues are considered health and safety violations.

Trustee Bob Rasho cautioned that because of the new ordinance, violations cannot be ignored and staff should enforce the code. After some discussion, it was agreed that Village Attorney Jeff Jurgens would review each of the outstanding violations and draft a letter to the homeowners concerning each individual situation and give them a set amount of time to comply.

Tree houses are not completely off the table yet. It will be decided by the board at some point whether to send the issue to the Planning and Zoning Commission to reconsider the fate of tree houses in the village.

Rasho suggested a process be developed to identify future code violations and address them as they happen so there is not such a backlog of cases in the future.

Jurgens updated trustees as he noted in his report to the board for the Sept. 3 meeting: “The number of outstanding code violations is now relatively small. After working with staff, there are only five property owners that I will be sending letters to in an attempt to address longstanding violations.”

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