Grand Blanc Twp. residents share concerns about code enforcement

GRAND BLANC TWP. — Grand Blanc Township residents are weighing in on the plan to clean up blight and enforce the township’s codes, and many aren’t happy with some of the restrictions.

Several residents addressed the board of trustees at the Tuesday, Sept. 7, meeting. Of greatest concern was the code prohibiting things like motorhomes and similar vehicles in driveways and side yards.

“Back in the ‘70s, we didn’t have near as many codes,” said resident Matthew Haslem. “When it was true farming community … you wouldn’t dare do that. It sounds like a de facto (home owners’ association).”

“If we wanted something like that, we would live in subdivision that has rules about certain color mailbox or rules about what we can park in our driveway,” said resident Jan Johnson. “When you start telling people they can’t have those things in their driveway, to me, it’s overstepping your bounds. If it’s not an eyesore, what does it hurt being parked in your driveway?”

Township officials have said they are increasing code enforcement as part of their newly-adopted Strategic Plan. The primary reason is to clean up some of the blighted areas.

As part of that plan, they intend to be more proactive in the enforcement effort, which is a departure from past practice in which enforcement was largely complaint-driven.

Some residents expressed concerns about the number and nature of the ordinances to be enforced.

“How in the world is everyone supposed to know what’s going on?” asked resident Brenda Barker. “How many code restrictions do you guys have? I’m assuming quite a few. How is everyone supposed to know all that?”

Kelly Higham is one of the residents who was surprised to learn that she can’t park her new fifth wheel in her driveway.

“I got a brand new fifth wheel in the winter, but had nothing to pull with, so sat in driveway,” she said. “It’s brand new. It’s not junk. I got a letter from township. I had no idea I couldn’t place my camper in my own driveway. It’s a very large driveway. I didn’t feel like it was disturbing anyone. I wasn’t blocking anyone’s view. It just really bothers me … I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong.”

Department of Public Works Director Jeff Sears said the township receives the most complaints about junk, debris and blight such as inoperable vehicles and overgrown grass and weeds.

Township officials also spend a lot of time picking up “snipe” signs, such as the “earn extra cash” placards often found at street corners.

“Our officers do very well while driving around community, stopping and picking those up,” Sears said. “We’re pretty focused on that.”

Lately, the township has dealt with violations of the ordinance regarding fences.

“People don’t know the regulations when you build a fence, like you can’t go past the front line of the house,” he said. “They don’t know that. They don’t get permits and they just throw up a fence and it doesn’t meet regulations.

“We have livestock violations right now with people who have chickens or other farm animals on their property. They may not know they can’t have them.”

Sears said public education is the key, and he supports the idea of reviewing some of the ordinances to make sure the language is proper and clear.

“I would like to work with the residents because I understand it can be a burden to them,” he said.

Sears would like the Planning Commission to take a close look at the ordinances over the winter, and “see what’s best for our community.”

“There are people who moved here because they want to live in the country,” he said. “Yes, we have a lot of subdivisions, also. We can’t have two different sets of ordinances, so what’s one ordinance that works best for our community?”

Township attorney David Lattie said the township is trying to work with people who are acting in good faith.

District Judge Christopher Odette hears the violations and, more often than not, finds the residents responsible.

“But he also will allow some leeway if they demonstrate a good-faith effort,” Lattie said.

Residents who don’t comply face fines up to $500 and costs up to $500. Those who repeatedly fail to comply may face a court order to do so. The judge also has the authority to grant the township permission to remove vehicles that are in violation, or mow noxious weeds, at the property owner’s expense.

The township has a responsibility to protect the heath and safety of the community, which includes eliminating blighted conditions, Lattie said.