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Numerous Small Town Ordinance Violations

by Suzanne
(Gooding County, Hagerman, Idaho)

Every Square Inch Will Be Occupied Soon

Every Square Inch Will Be Occupied Soon

Visitor Question: The neighbors got together and revoked the CC&R's during a law suit to clean up the properties. We are now under the local County's protection.

However, the small town in which we live is requiring us to submit a Petition rather than have a particular lot owner apply for a Special Use Permit and get signatures of approval to live on his lot with no sewer or water.

He has been living on the lot now for three years with no sewer or water and often entertains on the weekends with four or five more people that apparently are not human and do not use the bathroom. The health department's hands are tied as the lot owner has not requested a septic system for approval and they will not enter his "Private Property".

The Ordinances are clear that the T2/Ag zone requires a permanent structure; the temporary home requires a Special Use Permit; and the land needs to fall under some type of law as we are not allowed to put a fence in excess of 8 feet in order to block his junk yard.

We have been through the Planning and Zoning Department, the Prosecuting Attorney, the Health Department, and recently the County Commissioner. The only department that has honored the Ordinances has been the Idaho Transportation Department who after a careful investigation found the lot owner living on the property and accessing it from an illegal self made entrance.

We cannot get the Petition because of the pressure on the people to speak up. The lot owner was awarded the lot after divorce and does not have the money to build on the property, but is using it as a junk yard, a boat and RV storage and a former Tree Trimming Business Equipment graveyard.

What, if anything, can be done?

Thank you.

Editors Reply: It sounds like you and your neighbors are the victims of a fairly typical small town reluctance to enforce their own ordinances. We are going to assume you meant to say there is pressure on people NOT to speak up, rather than pressure to speak up.

Certainly there seems to be a sympathy factor due to the divorce and lack of money. However, an ordinance should be enforced evenly on everyone if it is to be respected at all.

Digging into this further, it sounds as if your town or your county has a zoning ordinance. This zoning ordinance requires a permanent structure if people are to live on the land. No doubt it is the zoning ordinance also that sets forth the procedure for obtaining a special use permit. So we cannot understand a prosecuting attorney or a planning department that would fail to enforce this provision of the zoning ordinance.

In this type of situation, we usually advise people to form an organization, even if it is temporary. Then the organization and not a single household can be advocating for the enforcement of the ordinance. That may not work for you, due to the small town factor, but it's worth a try. If you know even one other person or family that is concerned about this situation privately, talk to them about whether they would support an organization or a "committee" to take on this issue.

Another approach that occasionally is successful in a small town is more of a social service approach. What organizations around town or in the county would help an individual who could not afford housing? Maybe you could rally some financial support, although we have a caution about that.

The caution is that someone who pollutes the land by storing junk, multiple RVs and boats, and abandoned machinery and equipment on the land perhaps is not very concerned about living conditions. He may not be swayed by the prospect of a modest home with actual plumbing. But again, a congregation or social service provider might be able to provide the kind of support that would make this man secure enough to live better and behave in a way that benefits neighbors as well as himself.

Ultimately this situation is a nuisance suit waiting to happen, but that is an expensive, time-consuming process not guaranteed to produce results in a state and probably an area where the property rights idea is strong.

But if you and your neighbors are determined, we would advise (a) organizing to put more political pressure on the county, the town, and the neighbors who are reluctant to sign the petition (b) investigating what organizations might help you with a softer approach to getting this man into better neighborly behavior and eliminating health hazards, and (c) as a last resort, you will have to go to court to seek an injunction to get the town and county to enforce their laws.

Unfortunately this story could be told in many small towns and semi-rural places. Our message is that these places should not enact ordinances that they don't intend to enforce.

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