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Help on way for neighbors of urban blight, junky yards in Oak Harbor

Oak Harbor resident Karen Ekberg would like to be able to look out her back windows without seeing a yard filled with junk.

It may take awhile, code enforcement officer David Anderson said, but she’ll get her wish.

Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley put a special emphasis on code enforcement last year. The aftermath of the Great Recession left a lot of foreclosed and abandoned homes in the city; without anyone to care for them, the grass grows tall and garbage accumulates.

City staff rewrote the enforcement code to give Anderson better tools to deal with the problems.

So far, the new rules haven’t helped Ekberg. She lives in a quiet neighborhood near Hillcrest Elementary School. Then a man rented the house next door last year and left a giant pile of junk on the front yard. People came and went from the house at all hours of the day. He played loud music. The city cut off his water last fall.

“Living next door has been a hazard,” she said.

Ekberg said she called City Hall, the police department and the county health department to complain, but nobody ever called her back.

Two weeks ago, the man was finally evicted. Ekberg said he left large pieces of furniture on the sidewalks where children walk to school. She was worried that they may be contaminated with drug residue, but her calls to officials went unreturned.

Anderson, however, said he’s on the case. He explained that the eviction process can be lengthy. He’s now working with the owner of the house to get the yard cleaned up. He said she has a giant mess inside to deal with, along with the death of a family member, so he’s giving her some leeway.

Under the revised code, Anderson said he can ask the owner of a blighted property to sign a voluntary compliance agreement, which gives the owner a certain amount of time to clean up. If the owner doesn’t comply, the city can contract with a business to clean up the property, then file a lien to recoup the cost of the abatement.

“We don’t want to put a hardship on anyone, we just want to get it cleaned up,” Anderson said.

Last fall, Anderson said he counted 24 foreclosed and abandoned homes in the city with knee-high grass.

So far, the new rules have been “pretty successful,” Anderson said, though the process can take some time. He hasn’t filed any liens yet.

 

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