City preps to clean up neglected properties

City Council removed the exempt status from properties in the western portion of the Heritage District. (City of Maricopa)


Since 2004, a section of Maricopa has been exempt from code enforcement and nuisance laws.[quote_box_right]Kazi Haque retiring
After 15 years as a planner for the City of Maricopa, Kazi Haque is retiring this month. Five years ago, we caught up with him to talk about the unique history he witnessed during his time here.[/quote_box_right]

The area is the portion of the Heritage District west of State Route 347 and includes some of the oldest homes and buildings in town. It also includes abandoned and neglected property.

“Over the years, the City was not able to clean up and do the right thing as far as public safety (and) health was concerned, and it deteriorated over the years,” Deputy City Manager Kazi Haque said. “We have a lot of new developments coming out here and our prime lands are really in short [supply] because we don’t have enough land left here in Maricopa.”

In what was likely his final presentation to Maricopa City Council, Haque showed a series of photographs of property south of the tracks, mostly in the area of McDavid and Loma roads. Property sported abandoned and rusting vehicles, piles of refuse and ramshackle buildings.

“I think it speaks for itself,” he said. “It doesn’t sit well for a city’s image.”

City Manager Rick Horst said all the properties shown, except White’s Towing, were abandoned and vacant homes.

(City of Maricopa)

Haque said, after 16 years, it is time to remove that exemption from the city code.

Hired after that part of the code was adopted, Haque has been in the City’s planning department 15 years. He is retiring next week and said he wanted to turn over this final rock.

Tuesday, the council unanimously voted to remove the exempting designations from those properties.

While the city did not receive formal feedback from residents expressing opposition, Councilwoman Julia Gusse said she did get a complaint from her neighbor on Hathaway Avenue. He was worried property owners would be forced to part company with their belongings. “Somebody’s garbage is somebody else’s treasure,” she said.

Horst said the program is not targeting those properties but areas with abandoned, dangerous buildings that are fire hazards and crime hazards, with people living in them who should not be there.

Even making a comparison to Chernobyl, Haque said wildlife settling in those buildings could also be a hazard for future neighbors, who probably would not want to be near collections of spiders and snakes.

Haque said the cleanup program will be similar to that enacted in the east side of Heritage District, where properties were cleaned up, with some even demolished. The annual budget keeps a fund for that kind of cleanup.

“We put a lien on the property  and then we recoup it when they either sell it to someone else … or if they decide to develop it then they have to pay the lien,” Horse said. “So, there’s not out-of-pocket cost up front. Some are willing to do it out of their own pocket because they don’t want a lien.”

The liens average $1,500 to $3,000.

Mayor Christian Price said having a hands-off designation keeps the City from evolving.

(City of Maricopa)

“I’ve always had a real sensitive part in my heart for the Heritage District and the agreements that were made when the City was founded with those folks that were originally here,” he said. “It’s an impossible promise to say that things will never change, because of course they change.”

But he said he also reminds newcomers the old section of Maricopa is not trash but someone’s home.

“Just ‘cause you’ve moved into a newer, more modern area doesn’t mean that we should discard what our history is,” he said. “But there’s something to be said for the taxpayer as a whole when the city goes in and helps clean up some of these things.”

The cleanup in the east side of Heritage District turned out a lot of drug cases. There was also a house fire caused by people in a vacant house who burned it to the ground.

Price said Maricopa has a standard and there is a way to establish that “justly and appropriately and kindly.”

Horst said those who do not want to demolish vacant buildings on their property can board them up.

Haque said after the change in designation, it could up to five more years before the city begins a cleanup program.