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County Manager: Neighbors’ Complaints About Each Other Are Going Up

County Manager Mark Schwartz said he has noticed more residents calling code enforcement with complaints about their neighbors.

At a County Board work session Tuesday with the code enforcement staff, which enforces the county’s noise ordinance, maintenance code and other regulations, Schwartz said that anecdotally, people call to complain as they are unaware of other ways to resolve their issues.

Schwartz said that too often, code enforcement is used as a “cudgel” by some residents unwilling to take their complaints directly to their neighbors. He said that the county must step up to help resolve disputes in a better way.

“There may be room for a more mediation, community relations approach by us as a county and civic associations,” Schwartz said. “There’s a void there in the community.”

Schwartz’s pronouncement came after County Board member Christian Dorsey asked about the extent to which the county’s bureaucracy is used to “litigate personal disputes or issues that are better suited to other realms than the power of the state to enforce things.”

It also comes hot on the heels of the Westover Beer Garden’s continued disputes with the county over its outdoor seating and live entertainment. In 2010, the county stopped music there altogether because of complaints from two neighbors, and is now considering a law change so it can add more patio seats.

But the county’s code enforcement staff said they may have some solutions to help ease the problem, including educating the community on what the department does and what it can help with.

Code enforcement chief Gary Greene said the department has continued to engage in community outreach like attending civic association meetings voluntarily.

Dorsey went further and suggested code enforcement lead “cleanup days” for some of the topics that receive the most complaints, including snow and overgrown plants and vegetation that obstruct sidewalks and streets.

He said the time is right for “those sorts of things that are causing better outcomes in our community, so that we get the sense that code enforcement isn’t the state putting its thumb on the scale.”

Board members seemed impressed by the new initiatives for code enforcement.

“I hadn’t thought of code enforcement as a way to build community, but now I do,” said Board member Libby Garvey.

Brooke Giles contributed reporting.

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