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St. Charles County looks to change maintenance code

St. Charles County officials may cast a less watchful eye on dilapidated old barns, high grass or peeling paint on property zoned agricultural.

The County Council is leaning toward changes in the county’s property maintenance code as it applies to rural and agricultural property, after hearing a litany of complaints at a work session in May. Councilmembers and county officials are expected to meet to come up with changes in the code and in enforcement by county inspectors.

Councilmember Joe Brazil (District 2) called the work session because he said he had received many “very severe complaints” from residents about the county Neighborhood Preservation Department’s enforcement of the county’s property maintenance code in rural areas.

Brazil said there may be a breakdown in interpretation of the code and in its enforcement. In all, more than 30 residents turned out for the work session. Brazil asked four property owners to discuss their property issues with the department.

Dale Schaper, one of the residents, complained about the short time he was given in notices from the county to correct situations at an old house. Others complained about property being boarded up and personal items being taken off their property.

Brazil questioned Art Genasci, director of the department, about “sweeps” of inspectors who drove through parts of the county and issuing violation notices.

Genasci said inspectors had repeatedly met with property owners and were applying the code as written, particularly in dealing with old structures that may fall down and pose a safety threat.

Brazil was upset that residents complained about receiving letters condemning old barns, some of which were more than 100 years old.

“It’s wrong,” Brazil said. “They’re unsafe? Unsafe to who – trespassers? That’s ludicrous.”

Councilmember Mike Klinghammer (District 6) said there was a need to rewrite the violation notices that the county sends out.

Some residents agreed.

“If you’re going to check on us, you need to check on everybody in the county,” Jacob Schwede, who, along with Allen and Dennis Schwede, outlined the letters they had received for taking down structures and an old barn on their farm along Schwede Road. The barn was built in 1872.

But Wayne Anthony, director of the county’s Community Development Department, said the “rub” often comes with the increased urbanization of the county where other nearby property owners don’t see a falling- down barn as “beneficial to their property values.”

Councilmember David Hammond (District 4), a former county building official, offered to draft some written suggestions for code changes.

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