|Pittsfield Continues to Debate Junk Car Ordinance|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
02:26AM / Thursday, August 24, 2017
|Fire Inspector Randy Stein said if a vehicles is a hazard, it is removed right away. If not, residents have five days to appeal before the city tows it.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city's Ordinance and Rules Committee is recommending new language regarding junk vehicles — for the third time.
The City Council has been kicking around new changes to the junk dealers and waste collectors ordinance since December. The mayor and fire inspector had asked for more clarification in the ordinance defining what constitutes a junk vehicle.
The law as currently written reads, vehicles are not allowed to stand "in the open or allow to stand on any premises, public or private, for a period of more than 48 hours, any abandoned, wrecked, junked, dilapidated, nonoperating or unregistered motor vehicle" unless that person has a junk dealer license.
Part of the additional language defines non-operating as "or a motor vehicle without a valid state inspection sticker." At first, the Ordinance and Rules Committee approved it in a two-minute meeting with no discussion. But before it got to the full council, councilors began to hear concerns from residents about it.
The change in wording revealed a situation in which the Fire Department had always defined vehicles as "non-operating" if it didn't have a valid inspection sticker. But, questions centered on such instances when somebody is at college or overseas in the military and the sticker expires.
Or if somebody is selling a vehicle, such as the array of city-owned, unregistered vehicles, including fire trucks, that are sitting out in the open on city property on Utility Drive awaiting auction.
Fire Inspector Randy Stein said the city already tows vehicles that are safety hazard right away, and the use of the law is on those who have junk vehicles on their property for extended periods of time. In the cases of a vehicle not being used, the stickers must still be kept up to date to ensure the registration and insurance are still valid.
If the inspection is invalid, insurance companies can drop coverage and if something happens, homeowners won't cover it either, Stein said, creating a hazard.
The additional language regarding the inspection sticker alleviated arguments the department would have with residents about it.
"This is not an addition, it is a clarification of the current ordinance," Stein told the City Council back in February.
The subcommittee took it back up and in June recommended additional language, extending the amount of time a vehicle can stay on the property to 14 days. That was hoped to alleviate any concern with such circumstances in which the vehicle isn't junk.
But on June 27, Mayor Linda Tyer asked the council to shrink that time period. Tyer said the inspectors have discretion on which residents actually get cited, and with appeals, she felt the 14 days plus an appeal period was too long to deal with conditions of blight.
"It undermines all of our efforts to address blighted conditions," Tyer told the council then. "I feel it will limit our ability to be aggressive to deal with blighted conditions."
Stein said a resident has five days after a citation to appeal anyway and the city doesn't tow vehicles until after that. He said he tries to work with residents in extraordinary circumstances. In cases of a vehicle being repaired, Stein said he asks residents to move it into a garage or to a facility that has a junk dealer's license.
Ordinance and Rules Committee member Peter White responded in June saying, "we are trying to work with the citizens and we are trying to take away if you give somebody something and you didn't give someone else kind of thing."
It went back to Ordinance and Rules. On Monday, the subcommittee took it up again and passed the exact same ordinance as presented in June.
"It is frustrating that it is back here and we don't have any reasons other than the few conversations we had at City Council, no suggestions," Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo said.
White said he was "not convinced" the 14 days needed to change and was hoping the mayor would present additional information about her request.
Stein said the department and the administration were taken off guard by the change of 48 hours to 14 days. All he wanted was more language supporting what the inspector already does.
"The change was to get more of a definition to what 'non-operating' was and that's when the valid inspection sticker came up. Nothing was even brought up or mentioned that we were looking to change any dates or times. That just happened and I think it took us, and the mayor, by surprise that there was a change in the times," Stein said.
The subcommittee discussed dropping the number of days to 10 but Ward 6 Councilor John Krol's motion to do so wasn't passed.
"My fear is we just send it back to the council, it just going to be coming back here again," Krol said.