From dumped tires to overgrown weeds, code compliance officers work to resolve issues in a timely manner

Signs posted on Lost Dutchman Boulevard near Mountain View Road specify dumping is not allowed by the city of Apache Junction, right, and on State Trust Land, left in background. (Photo by Wendy Miller, Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA)

Signs posted on Lost Dutchman Boulevard near Mountain View Road specify dumping is not allowed by the city of Apache Junction, right, and on State Trust Land, left in background. (Photo by Wendy Miller, Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA)

Sometimes representatives from the city of Apache Junction and Pinal County join forces to resolve an issue. This photo was posted Feb. 3 by an Apache Junction citizens group on Facebook of more than 50 used tires dumped near Mountain View Road and Lost Dutchman Boulevard. The city’s public works director and a county code compliance officer are working together to remove them from the desert. (Special to Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA/David Day)

Sometimes representatives from the city of Apache Junction and Pinal County join forces to resolve an issue. This photo was posted Feb. 3 by an Apache Junction citizens group on Facebook of more than 50 used tires dumped near Mountain View Road and Lost Dutchman Boulevard. The city’s public works director and a county code compliance officer are working together to remove them from the desert.
(Special to Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA/David Day)

What tops the list of violations handled in 2013 by the Apache Junction Building and Code Compliance Division?

If you said junk stored on the outside of a home, you’d be close. It came in a close second, according to Dennis Dixon, the division’s building and safety manager who oversees the city’s code compliance matters.

The code violation that had to be dealt with more than any other in 2013 was land maintenance — that includes weeds, Mr. Dixon said in a report requested by the Independent and e-mailed last summer to the paper.

The city handled 3,025 code compliance cases in 2013, according to Mr. Dixon’s report. Of those, 1,442 — nearly half — dealt with overgrown weeds and other matters dealing with the lack of maintenance to the exterior of a dwelling or place of business, according to the report.

Rain from 2014’s monsoon season did little to affect the number of yard-maintenance complaints last year,

Mr. Dixon said in an e-mailed response to questions last fall.

“The monsoon weather may have impacted some but no pattern emerged,” he wrote in the e-mail.
Outdoor storage came in second with 1,053 cases, while recreational vehicles and semitrailer rigs parked in front yards was a distant third with 143 cases. In fourth place with 103 cases was inoperable vehicles parked in front yards.

The remaining 284 cases dealt with an assortment of violations, according to Mr. Dixon’s report.

And who tops the list of people reporting the violations?

Cooler weather brings an increase in the city’s winter population and, as a result, additional complaints, Mr. Dixon said in his e-mailed response to questions last fall.

However, it’s not residents but code compliance officers who report the majority of the violations. The officers reported 79.7 percent of the cases from violations they observed while out in the field, Mr. Dixon said during a phone interview.

The officers cannot go into a backyard without a resident’s permission, Mr. Dixon said; that’s why they look for things that can be seen from the public rights-of-way, he said during his phone interview this summer.
“There are rules about where we can and cannot go. What we can see are weeds, parked RVs, inoperable cars and so forth. Most of the people who would invite you into their backyard don’t have a reason for us not to be there,” he said.

The officers are seldom invited inside a home, Mr. Dixon said.

“I’m aware of only a couple, and basically they were the homes of people who had expired,” he said of those who had died.

The division has one full-time and several part-time employees — the equivalent of three full-time code compliance officers — who work 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday, Mr. Dixon said. Their goal is to work with residents to voluntarily comply with the city’s code, he said.

Property owners are required to maintain all their structures and property in accordance with Apache Junction City Code, according to the city’s website at www.ajcity.net.

The code also requires neighborhood common areas be maintained by a homeowners association in neighborhoods where one exists or by the property owner adjacent to the common area in neighborhoods where an HOA does not exist.

In addition, properties with weeds that exceed 10 inches in height are in violation of the code.
Situations that pose a serious risk to health and safety are given top priority, according to the city’s website. Others are pursued in the order in which they are received, according to the site.

For all code complaints, the first step is to verify a violation exists, according to the site. If so, a notice of violation is sent to the resident or legal property owner, who is given the opportunity to voluntarily correct the situation in a timely manner, according to the site.

The division has a success rate of about 99 percent, Mr. Dixon said; some cases can take longer than others, he said.

“If they seem to be making a good faith effort we could try to give them extensions to get it done,” he said.

“The main challenge is it’s ongoing. You can get something cleaned up and then something pops up somewhere else.”

Mr. Dixon encourages people to notify his office if they have a complaint, he said. Complaints may be filed in person or in writing to: City of Apache Junction, Building and Code Compliance Division, 300 E. Superstition Blvd., Apache Junction, AZ 85119. People also may call 480-474-5156.

In addition, they can use the Report A Concern website at http://www.ajcity.net/requesttracker.aspx and click on a form under “Development Services.”

Complaints made by mail, phone and online can be reported anonymously, Mr. Dixon said.

Complaints should contain the following information: the address of the property, a detailed description of the situation and the length of time the situation has been observed, according to the website.

Terrilynn Klucar is a code compliance officer for Pinal County. She serves residents residing in areas adjacent to Apache Junction, in Gold Canyon and as far south as San Tan Valley.

The biggest complaint she receives in Gold Canyon is violations of the area’s dark skies ordinance, which controls light pollution.

“We have a lot of astronomers and stargazers in Gold Canyon and Queen Valley, too, who live there because of the dark skies ordinance. They like the night sky to be nice and dark,” Ms. Klucar said in an interview this summer. “On the flip side, some people are afraid to live in an area where it’s dark and want the bright lights for security.”

Ms. Klucar said she receives a lot of complaints about residents who install high-wattage, overhead lighting outside their homes. She said the complaints die down in the summer but pick up again in the fall when the winter visitors return to the East Valley.

Some people have installed mercury-vapor lights, which are a violation of the county lighting code, she said. The high-intensity discharge lights, which are often used in commercial areas — are environmentally bad and so are an easy fix for her department, she said.

“We tell the people the lights are against the code and they have to remove them,” she said.

Sometimes the city and county join forces to resolve an issue. After a photo was posted Feb. 3 by an Apache Junction citizens group on Facebook of more than 50 used tires dumped near Mountain View Road and Lost Dutchman Boulevard, Ms. Klucar and Giao Pham, the city’s public works director, are working together to remove them from the desert.

“We don’t want people to think it’s OK to dump items,” Mr. Pham said during a phone interview.

He said enforcing the code in that neighborhood can be tricky because city, county and state lands converge there. Each has its own set of codes and procedures, he said.

For more information about the Pinal County Code Compliance Division, visit http://www.pinalcountyaz.gov/departments/planningdevelopment/codecompliance/Pages/Home.aspx.

To view Apache Junction’s online code compliance facts and information, visit https://www.ajcity.net/index.aspx?NID=617. The site contains links to information about weed and dust control, graywater, property maintenance standards, common property maintenance issues and answers to frequently asked property maintenance questions.

The Apache Junction code compliance division does not oversee complaints about noisy animals and abandoned (or “green”) pools, Mr. Dixon said. Those are referred to Apache Junction Animal Control, which is operated by the Apache Junction Police Department, and the Pinal County Environmental Health Services department, respectively.

To contact animal control, call 480-983-4405. To reach the county’s environmental health department, visit http://pinalcountyaz.gov/Departments/EnvironmentalHealth/WestNileVirus or call 520-866-6864.

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