At St. Charles County Council meetings on June 14 and 28, homeowner Clayton Jones raised concerns over what he described as selective enforcement of county codes involving building, property maintenance, occupancy and general upkeep.
Jones, who lives in the Carmel Woods subdivision, claimed that he has been involved in a continuing runaround with county bureaucracy for nearly eight years as he and his neighbors struggle with the growing problem of urban blight in their area. He described Carmel Woods as “basically a river subdivision.” He said the problems in his area have been developing for a number of years and accelerated sharply following the 2019 flood.
“I think that if this was going on somewhere else in St. Charles County, say – I’m originally from Defiance or Augusta – it probably wouldn’t be a problem. I think its because of where we live down there. I don’t live in a big house … but my neighbors and I, our houses are nice, our yards are maintained,” Jones told the council on June 28.
He claimed that the county doesn’t do a very good job of maintaining lots that were damaged during the flood.
“There are a ton of vacant homes, abandoned homes, some of them are burned down, some of them aren’t. The vagrants are an issue. I can’t get anybody to call me back from the code department,” Jones said.
As in the past, Jones said on June 28 that he would like county officials to tour the lots to view the damage firsthand.
“I don’t think that the county should be responsible financially for tearing these homes down but they should hold the people accountable that own them. It’s an environmental issue. Septic tanks are caving in. We have one guy who came in and dumped 10 loads of asphalt shavings. Our wells are shallow. You can see the water flowing when you look down in the well under the ground.”
In an interview with Mid Rivers Newsmagazine, Jones said that he “is not the type to run to officials with small problems” but had decided to bring this matter to the attention of the council when he felt that his requests and inquiries were brushed off by the county staff.
“… this has been going on for almost eight years … (and) people here have had to jump through hoops” to get the attention of county officials, he said. Jones said he had decided to approach the council as a last resort.
Council member Nancy Schneider, who represents Jones and his neighbors in District 6, said the issue was not as simple as it might appear at first glance. She indicated that she and Jones had spoken after the June 14 council meeting and noted that she had also spoken with Community Development Director Michael Hurlbert and Building Commission member Jared Agee. She said they explained to her that there are violation cases against several of those landowners and that several are in court.
“I understand that it’s a very concerning issue for you and your neighbors,” she said. “But the county has to follow the law and proceed with court cases.”
She asked Jones and his neighbors for patience. To which he replied, “I’ve been hearing those same excuses for eight years. I keep hearing that people are going to court. I’ve been looking at the same houses for over eight years.”
Schneider then invited Hurlbert to speak. He confirmed that many of the violators are involved in court cases that the landowners often get extended.
“Once it goes to court, it’s kind of out of the county staff’s purview. There’s not a lot we can do. We have to let it run its course,” Hurlbert said. “Oftentimes, the cases get dismissed or (the landowners are) given a small fine and they go back to doing what they’re doing.”
Schnieder asked Hurlbert about Jones’ concern that his calls had gone unanswered. In response, Hurlbert noted that county phone records showed that Jones had called the county 23 times in May, 10 of those times to community development, but that only two of those calls were returned.
Council member Joe Cronin (District 1) asked Hurlbert why the county could not clean up and lien the properties. Hurlbert replied that the county could but that the process takes time and a legal process that runs the course of at least six months before the property can be deemed uninhabitable.
“Once you get that, then you begin to go through the bid process to get the demo and go through the courts to get the legal proceedings to do so,” Hurlbert said. He added that several properties were under that process now.
Before saying that he had to move the meeting along, council chair Mike Elam (District 3) noted that the “backlog of court cases over the last 18 months has been mind-boggling.”
Schneider added that since the county courts have opened back up post-pandemic, they have been giving priority to jury trials and criminal trials with time limits that could result in their dismissal.
Cronin asked if there was anyway to circumvent the courts, to which Hurlbert replied that there was not when you are talking about “taking a property and demolishing it from a private homeowner.”
In ending the discussion, Elam asked Jones to continue to work with Schneider on the issue. For his part, Jones said he will be back at every council meeting in the foreseeable future, speaking and pursuing a resolution to the matter.