The Bethel Village Council voted July 23 to adopt a new village property maintenance code.
The code is designed, said Councilwoman Donna Gunn, to make the village better than what current state and county codes will accomplish.
During a public hearing concerning the adoption of the document, however, two village residents expressed their displeasure at what they see as an invasion of their privacy and rights.
“I heard about this, and I was thinking about coming up to read it,” said Donetta Swartz. “I was thinking 10-15 pages, but to my surprise it’s 45. We have county codes and state codes that cover all of this, and also the board of health, and why they aren’t doing this I don’t know. This sounds like a homeowners association, and I moved here because it’s a small town and I could do what I want on my property. If my neighbor has a problem with something, they tell me and I can take care of it.”
"I don't care if my neighbor's trash can stays out there until the next Sunday, as long as there isn't trash sitting there," said Swartz. "A lot of these codes, I thought we had county and state codes to cover."
Gunn, however, said that the new regulations would help residents with uncooperative or rude neighbors to maintain a higher standard of living than they currently can.
"What we're trying to do is go over and above what is there," said Gunn. "I'm in the same boat as you. The people who lived across the street from me had their garbage cans out by the curb every day for six years. They moved out, but the trash cans are still out there. I'm sick of looking at them. You may have had good experiences with your neighbors being cooperative, to try and clean up their messes, but not all of us have experienced that. What we're trying to do here is create some basic standards to make our property values increase and encourage people to move here. This will do nothing but good for the entire village."
Swartz, however, said that the new regulations were not in her best interest, citing the potential for hardship that it could cause many residents. Another resident, Clay Swartz, complained specifically about several portions of the code.
"I started having troubles where it said I couldn't have a pile of lumber outside, and it also said I couldn't have tarps," said Swartz. "Throughout this, it seems like somebody really hates tarps. There's also a lot of this to keep you from having junk cars. It says where in my yard I can or cannot park a boat or trailer, which is insulting. I can be fined if drainage isn't right on my property. It says if I have a retaining wall or fence, I have to be careful what color I paint it. Somebody is going to tell me what color to paint my fence. That is so far over the line."
Swartz also pointed out several other regulations, such as ones that can regulate when a barn must be painted, what color a fence must be and where tractors, boats and trailers can be parked as insulting. Furthermore, he said the code allows people to be fined if their home windows are missing screens, if a home window doesn't operate properly, if a barn roof leaks, if a barn window is boarded up and if there are gaps in the interior wall of a barn that has been dry walled.
Barb Snedegar, one of the property maintenance code's principal creators, said that the new code would only be used as a method of resolving disputes, and not as a way to seek out violations for fining.
"We worked long and hard to create a document that would address the concerns of many of the citizens of this town," said Snedegar. "We're not going to look for every property in this town that violates this document. If you live next to that house and call us, this document allows us to do something about it, because currently there is nothing. We tried to write a document to respond to complaints. We'll not go out unless someone comes to us to complain about it."