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March 2014

Page 8

Summerfield Votes To Delay Nuisance Ordinance By The Star SUMMERFIELD - At the February meeting of the Summerfield Town Council, the board voted to postpone passing any nuisance ordinances after an outcry from the public. The town’s manager was directed by the council to rework the rules and bring them back to the council at an undetermined date. As this newspaper reported in its last issue, at the direction of Town Manager Scott Whitaker, the Town of Summerfield was considering adopting the new expansive nuisance ordinances that would have potentially regulated everything from animal smells to the types of furniture you could have on your patio to smoke coming from fireplaces in town. The new rules would have allowed the town to declare even such mundane items as a wood pile or stack of bricks as a public nuisance. At the request of Whitaker, the proposed rules were written by a corporation called Nfocus, which is located in Kannapolis, North Carolina. The firm is also paid $56 an hour to enforce ordinances in town and was also paid to come up with the new rules. The rules were first introduced at a so-called “public hearing” at the Summerfield Zoning Board meeting which was not announced to the media and which was attended by only one person who was not on the zoning board or didn’t work for the town. After that meeting, they were then sent to the Summerfield Town Council on February 11th for a final vote. At the council meeting, the room was packed. At least one person said it was the largest crowd they had seen at a town council meeting in years. Before the public spoke, Town Manager Scott Whitaker said the public was misinformed that the pages and pages of proposed new rules were a manifestation of “Big Brother.” “First of all...we’ve heard the term Big Brother,” he said. “...I hope we can clear up some of that. This is not about trying to grow government.” In addition, despite a specific section in the proposed ordinances about regulating airborne particulate matter that could include smoke, spraypaint, or dust, Whitaker said that the ordinances have “no intent” to regulate what you barbecue in your backyard. Whitaker also said that all of the complaints about code violations are all generated by citizens in the town, not public officials or town employees. However, he did not say how that was verified since anyone can make an anonymous complaint on the Town of Summerfield’s website without giving their name or contact information. PUBLIC COMMENTS During the public comment section of the meeting, only one citizen spoke in favor of the proposed ordinances. Charles Tyson said he was in favor of some stricter ordinances and showed photos of one of his neighbors who had trash and old vehicles in his front yard. Tyson later spoke again at the meeting and said while he was in favor of stricter ordinances, he agreed with other speakers and said he felt that the current draft of ordinances was too vague and “needed to be tightened up.” AGAINST “BIG BROTHER” A long list of people had signed up to speak out against the ordinance at the meeting. Summerfield resident Glen Pearson said that he owned 12 acres of land and that he would be in violation of several of the proposed new ordinances. He questioned ambiguous wording of the nuisance ordinance that said its intent was to promote “happiness” and get rid of “unsightly” areas in town. “This is unreasonable, unAmerican, and unlike Summerfield,” he said. Citizen Jane Doggett also spoke and said that Summerfield is different than most other towns. “One of the most important things is...maintaining the rural character,” she said. “Unfortunately, the rural character means ...to some people not pretty.” “I happen to like the smell of horse manure and cow manure,” she said. “Who decides it is offensive?” “Your neighbor!” said a man in the audience, eliciting laughs in the room. Ms. Doggett also said that wording in the ordinance was too general and could be applied to anyone. In one section, it mentioned outdoor furniture had to be “typical” for that use. “What is typical?” she asked. “What is it the hazard if someone wants to put a sofa out on their deck?” “Are we going to destroy the rural nature of Summerfield?” she asked. Resident Stewart Smith said he would be in violation if it is enacted.

“Out of these 21 statements here, I’m in violation out of 8,” he said. “This is Summerfield, not Irving Park. If you do decide to do this, you’re going to be bombarded with violations.” Karen Knight also spoke out against the ordinance, again reiterating what others said about the general terms. “They are so general, they can be flipped to anyone’s situation,” she said. Knight said she had experienced what can happen when a neighbor files complaints. Even if you are not in violation, she said it takes time and energy to defend against the complaints. “I’m sure that anyone here would not want to go through that,” she said. Lifelong citizen Mark Doggett also said he was opposed to the new rules. The attempt of the ordinances to regulate happiness seemed impossible, he said. “The wording of this is going to need to be examined,” he said. “Happiness and emotional stability?...How do you define it?” “If it affects the happiness of somebody else, I’m not sure that’s a nuisance,” he said. “You can’t keep everybody happy.” Doggett, who is part of Doggett Construction and also raises cattle, said the ordinances would affect businesses and farms in the area. “I’ve got pastures, food troughs,” he said. “Atmospheric conditions can change the smell.” “I’ve been in the cattle business all my life,” he said, adding that these ordinances would affect farming and the rural way of life in Summerfield. Other business owners said it would affect their businesses as well, since the ordinance would outlaw piles of construction materials, machinery, etc. Renee Long of Long Asphalt Company said they have piles of lumber, bricks, and tires stacked up for use in their business that would be outlawed under the new ordinance. “I’ve read the ordinance and it’s vague and nebulous,” said Fred Brown. “We don’t live in a gated community. It’s not appropriate for Summerfield.” Local attorney Rich Lipinski, who fought a legal battle against the town over a fence and won, echoed that. “This thing is so far reaching that if it were a criminal statute, it would be unenforcable,” he said. Stephen Brown said he believed the whole town would be affected. “You could find almost anyone in Summerfield in violation,” he said. He said it was “a tool of harassment, ill considered, and should be rejected.” Jenny Lockhart also said that she felt the rules went too far. “For me, this is like a homeowner’s association,” she said. “If people like that” then they can move into one. She also said the period of time given homeowners to fix any reported problems was too short. “Ten days...what if you’re out of town when you get the notice?” she asked. She said that the ordinances were attempting to regulate appearances. “Whose definition [are we using] of what is attractive?” she asked. She also added that the reporting system would cause problems. “We need to build a community,” she said, not pit neighbor against neighbor. William Brown said he was new to the area, but was glad to see such a strong reaction to the ordinance. “I am happy that my fellow citizens are as disappointed in this legislation as I am,” he said. He also was upset that the proposed ordinances were not properly vetted before reaching the council. “The council failed in getting this out to the public,” he said, thanking The Star newspaper for reporting on it. Citizen Tim Jones said that the new rules would infringe upon the rights of citizens. “What does the town seal stand for? Friends of liberty -- this does not mesh with that,” he said. Jones also pointed out there is no appeal process in the proposed rules. Jones added Nfocus should not have been hired to write the ordinances, calling it “an inherent conflict of interest.” Town Council members Alicia Flowers, Mike Adams, and Diane Laughlin spoke out against the ordinance directly. “I am totally against these new ordinances,” said Flowers. “I moved to Summerfield for less regulation, I did not wish to move to a nanny town.” “I don’t think it’s laid out here in such a way that we want to live by these rules,” said Mike Adams. Several of the council members said their homes would be in violation. Dena Barnes of the council made a motion that the town make the ordinances “more specific” and vote on them again later on. The motion carried unanimously. ::

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