Code enforcement

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly moved forward Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, with Mayor Bryce Ward's request to hire an additional code enforcement officer to help tackle a backlog of cases.

Under current borough code, anyone can file a land use complaint, even anonymously. Since this rule was put in place in 2016, the number of code enforcement cases has almost doubled with more than 400 pending cases.

A Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblyman is proposing to revert back to tighter rules for who can file a code complaint, requiring that complainants identify themselves and show that they have standing, which means they are directly impacted by what they are complaining about.

The borough Planning Commission will vote today on whether to support the change, which effectively reverts the system back to what the rules were in 2015. The borough administration opposes the change. The Borough Assembly will have the final vote.

“This ordinance disrupts the balance between competing private property rights within a community,” reads a memorandum from code enforcement officer Adam Pruett to the Planning Commission. “It also hinders the community interests of enforcing land use regulations to better protect quality of life, property values and private property rights.”

A big chunk of the pending code compliance cases are for properties on which residents have accumulated too much stuff — cars, building materials, appliances — and the property fits the definition of a junkyard, which is prohibited in some zones or must be surrounded by a fence in others. Encroachment is also a major problem. That’s when a person’s stuff is overflowing from the property. A property with 1,000 square feet of objects qualifies as a junkyard. An estimated 10-12 broken-down cars meets that threshold.

Ordinance 2022-16 is sponsored by Assemblyman Aaron Lojewski, who introduced it after borough leaders authorized hiring a second code enforcement officer earlier this year to help with the huge volume of code compliance cases. The ordinance states that the high case load is taking staff time away from the most serious violations.

Lojewski holds that requiring complainants to provide their name is in keeping with the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which recognizes the importance of the rights of the accused to know their accuser.

The ordinance reads that the burden of proof to show a violation is on the accuser.

Pruett wrote that the proposed change puts more work on staff and “may create an undue administrative burden regarding the investigation of standing for new complaints.”

He added that “while staff does not maintain data on the reasons people submit complaints anonymously, it has been verbalized to staff on many occasions that the complainants are afraid of retaliation.”

“Complainants often confide in staff that they have been threatened with violence,” Pruett wrote, “and they fear that if their identity were ascertained their life and/or property may be harmed. Often the case that is entered is a clear violation of FNSB code.”

For fiscal years 2017-2021, 690 total complaints were received, according to Pruett. Of those, 430 complaints were submitted anonymously and 260 were submitted with the contact information of the complainant.

Of approximately 150 complaints received in 2021, only three complaints did not result in a violation, according to Pruett.

“The proposed ordinance may reduce the number of complaints, but it will still leave the FNSB with a high volume of high priority violation types, and with less capability to address them,” the code enforcement officer’s memorandum reads.

Contact sAmanda Bohman at 907-459-7545, at abohman@newsminer.com or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMborough.

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