Crackdown on nuisance properties advances

PANAMA CITY — When Steve Robinson learned a tenant was selling drugs from one of his rental properties, he called the police five times in the course of a week.

He said he’s concerned a proposed ordinance to crack down on chronic nuisances could hurt him if a similar situation arises. The ordinance would declare a property a chronic nuisance if the police respond five or more times in a 30-day period.

“I’m concerned about infringement on property rights and the potential abuses,” he told the Panama City City Commission during a meeting Tuesday. Commissioners held first reading of the ordinance but did not take a vote. It likely will come before the commission for a vote during the March 27 meeting.

The ordinance also would allow a chronic nuisance to be declared for “the existence of circumstances upon properties … that is annoying to neighbors, the neighborhood and the community that is injurious to the health of citizens in general or that corrupts public morals.”

It refers to the city’s existing nuisance ordinance for abatement, which includes a notice, appearance before a special magistrate and the potential for a fine. If the property owner does not comply, the city would have authority to “vacate, demolish, or remove or otherwise abate” the nuisance.

Robinson said he regularly reports criminal activity to police and he thinks the ordinance isn’t needed because there are other forms of recourse through business licensing.

Commissioner John Kady said it’s the type of problems Robinson talked about that show why the ordinance is needed.

“Part of living in a city is being responsible, and 99.99 percent are,” he said. A small portion of people are using a large portion of city resources, he said, and the ordinance is intended to address that.

“It lowers property values, it’s using a huge portion of our police budget, and it’s something we need to address,” he said.

In Robinson’s case, Kady said he couldn’t imagine the police using the nuisance ordinance against a property owner who is cooperating to solve the source of the problem.

City attorney Rowlett Bryant said the purpose of the ordinance is to clean up neighborhoods.

“We’re not going to tolerate behavior that’s detrimental to the city, to the neighborhoods and to the neighbors,” he said.

The ordinance stems from concerns about the impact on downtown of places where homeless people congregate, such as the Panama City Rescue Mission and nearby Grocery Outlet.

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