The City of Crookston announced in January that in April a new “Property Maintenance Code” would launch that would feature a more comprehensive and consistent process of responding to complaints, following up on those complaints, investigating and eventually enforcing the code when need be. The new code took more than a year to put together, and City officials’ thinking in January was that property owners in town should have a few months to prepare for the new code taking effect.

    The City of Crookston announced in January that in April a new “Property Maintenance Code” would launch that would feature a more comprehensive and consistent process of responding to complaints, following up on those complaints, investigating and eventually enforcing the code when need be. The new code took more than a year to put together, and City officials’ thinking in January was that property owners in town should have a few months to prepare for the new code taking effect.

    So what’s been happening since April 1, when the Property Maintenance Code officially kicked in? Plenty, says City Administrator Shannon Stassen.

    Several property compliance cases are “in the pipeline,” he said, one is heading to court, some property owners have complied after their properties triggered complaints, and some property owners haven’t had the money to make the necessary fixes and improvements and have been subsequently steered to agencies designed to help them.

    “We’re working with the people who are working with us,” Stassen said.

    The one thing that didn’t change from previous property-related ordinances and/or city codes is that the entire process must be spurred by citizen complaints and not City-led inspections of properties or reports of dilapidated homes or yards full of junk or in otherwise poor condition. There’s a complaint form at city hall for complainants to fill out, and some people are going that route, but based on a discussion at this week’s city council Ways & Means Committee meeting, Crookston residents are going to Mayor Wayne Melbye and council members with their property complaints.

    “I’m getting bombarded with complaints about buildings, cars, properties, yards, the old high school, Lincoln School, the old Cathedral, all over the place,” Melbye said. “It’s time to step up our response, whatever we have to do.”

    The mayor, a longtime Woods Addition resident, was joined by other council members in saying that his neighborhood is the absolute worst in the community, not only when it comes to the condition of houses and yards, but it’s streets, curbs and gutters have also been neglected far too long by the City.

    “The houses on Holly are still horrible. …There are complaints about the general decay of the neighborhood,” Melbye said. “I have a list from there and all over town; I will turn it in.”

    At Large Council Member Bob Quanrud minced words less than anyone in describing the overall condition of one of Crookston’s oldest neighborhoods, which was supposed to experience sort of a rebirth after it was the first low-lying neighborhood in the community to be surrounded by a new, certified levee system.

    “I drove the whole neighborhood and I’m embarrassed. It’s just pathetic,” Quanrud said. “We need to spend some money down there. It’s just gross. I’m ashamed of it.”

    He encouraged his colleagues on the council to drive through the neighborhood. “It’s just terrible,” Quanrud said. “…We want everyone to make their house look nice and pretty…just take a drive down there and see.”

    To the growing chorus around the table that the City needs to spend money on rebuilt streets with new curbs and gutters in the Woods Addition, Public Works Director Pat Kelly reminded everyone that the City has a finite pot of money each year to invest in street improvement projects. And, he added, property owners who’d be assessed for a share of the costs of any project might object to the expense. To that, Melbye said the City’s assessment formula launched several years ago is more affordable for property owners living on streets that are improved or reconstructed entirely.

    Even so, Stassen said that if the City targets the Woods Addition for numerous street improvement projects that involve reconstruction and new curbs and gutters, there might be some sticker shock.

    “I just want to weigh in on the affordability,” he said. “If we did all those streets, it would be a huge financial burden for some people down there.”

    A Woods Addition trait that was true years ago and remains true today – the fact that many of its homes are rentals and not owner-occupied – will remain a stumbling block to making major improvements, whether it’s to properties or streets, the mayor said.

    “It’s all the rentals down there,” Melbye said. “That’s where you’re going to hear (complaints about being assessed for street projects). (The landlords) don’t live there.”

    As council members give the Woods Addition a longer look and field complaints about other properties around town, Finance Director Angel Weasner reminded them that the Property Maintenance Code demands that they take a back seat and let the citizen complaint-driven process instigate the code’s process of follow-up, investigation, and enforcement.

    “Just remember, someone has to complain, otherwise it looks like selective enforcement,” Weasner said.

    “People don’t want to complain about their neighbors; that’s why they go through us and we bring it in,” Melbye said. “I just hate getting the same complaints over and over and over.”