With a unanimous vote, including one “very reluctant yes” from Ward 4 Councilman Larry Stevenson, the Sedalia City Council on Monday passed an ordinance that would require inspections to downtown buildings.
Nearly a year after the Citizens for a Clean Sedalia Committee began looking into the issue of dangerous downtown buildings, and two months since it was first brought to council, the ordinance will require about 220 buildings to undergo a thorough inspection by a certified historical engineer who will look at foundations, roofs, masonry, guttering and weatherproofing issues, by April 2016. Then, every three years, a city inspector will look at buildings from the public right of way; all inspections will be paid for by the city.
During its pre-meeting, council heard a presentation from City Administrator Gary Edwards who outlined the original ordinance and a second ordinance that included an amendment proposed by Stevenson, which would require inspectors to have express, written permission from building owners to enter their property and allow owners to declare private areas off limits to inspections.
“(The amended ordinance) weakens the ordinance to the point of it being ineffective,” Edwards said. “An owner could declare an entire building or critical section ‘private’ thereby making it impossible to inspect.”
Edwards also showed council several photos of a downtown building that had guttering, roofing and weatherproofing issues that would not have been seen from the public right of way.
“I’m sick and tired of cleaning up other people’s messes,” said Ward 3 Councilman Wiley Walter. “We’re responsible for taxpayer money and we can’t keep spending it on this.”
Several downtown business owners spoke in favor of the ordinance, highlighting the need for public safety.
“We have six downtown buildings, we chose to invest in this commercial district and we’re not afraid (of possible inspections) because we take care of our buildings,” Michelle Swords said. “We need to help the image of downtown and every time a building falls down, we’re taking a step backward.”
Fellow downtown building owner Doug Freed said he’s spent “a lot of money, time and energy” in his building.
“I’ve owned my building for 32 years but I’m more concerned about the building next to me,” he said. “For the past 20 years it’s sat vacant and I would like to know that it’s safe.”
After the meeting, Ward 2 Councilwoman Becca La Strada — who has been a vocal opponent of allowing inspectors to enter into people’s homes — told the Democrat her vote came down to safety.
“I still have concerns and I hope inspectors will only go through the living quarters to access roofs and check for other damage,” she said. “The majority of people downtown do take care of their buildings, I think it’s more about the absent owners’ buildings and making sure the public is safe.”
Citizens for a Clean Sedalia Chair Mary Merritt said she was “very pleased” with the passage of the ordinance.
“It’s taken a long time but I think the council has finally come to the realization of how important public safety is,” she said.
During the meeting council also:
• Approved an ordinance accepting an agreement between the city and Pittsburgh Corning for adjustments to sewer charges.
• Approved the use of credit cards in the Finance, City Court, Cemetery and Parks departments.