Green Park eyes occupancy permits for rental properties

Board of Aldermen votes unanimously to table proposed sign code until Oct. 16


To better maintain property values in Green Park, city leaders are considering establishing occupancy permits for rental properties.

Aldermen agreed last week to instruct City Attorney Paul Rost to draft an occupancy permit ordinance that would be decided at a later date.

Ward 1 Alderman Judy Betlach, who introduced the proposal at the board’s Sept. 18 meeting, said the proposal likely would be ready by the board’s next meeting on Oct. 16 and that it would include a user fee of roughly $25 for renters only.

“We’re only doing rentals right now because we want to go baby steps,” Betlach told the Call. “We may eventually include residences like (St. Louis) County is doing. But we feel we should start off slowly. We’re kind of catching up to what St. Louis County has been doing all along.”

The thought behind the proposal is to put a system in place to ensure that property values in the city are being maximized through maintenance. Betlach also said a user fee would be easier to establish than handing out licenses, which would require voter approval.

In an e-mail message that Betlach sent to city officials last week, she pointed out that Green Park would be wise to draft its own occupancy permit ordinance because St. Louis County will be requiring the inspection of all rental property in 2007.

“Currently, St. Louis County provides for inspection of residential rental property and is moving next year to re-quire this inspection for all residential property,” Betlach wrote. “Green Park is not covered by this St. Louis County ordinance and does not have a code enforcement officer for rental inspection compliance. The city could contract with St. Louis County for this service. This approach would help renters regulate the upkeep of their rental property. Using a permit or license fee to require landlords to register each time the occupant changes, the city could require an inspection of the property for compliance with city ordinances. Adopting a license approach would require ballot approval by city residents. Another option could be a permit — considered as a user fee to cover the cost of the inspection. The ultimate target is maintaining property values.”

“Currently, the city relies on monitoring by aldermen and complaints by citizens to identify and enforce the city’s property maintenance code. As a result, the city has placed articles in past newsletters to encourage residents to file a verbal or written complaint with the city once they become aware of possible violations.”

Besides giving Rost direction to draft an occupancy permit ordinance, the Board of Aldermen voted unanimously Sept. 18 to table a proposed sign ordinance until its next meeting on Monday, Oct. 16. Betlach moved to table the ordinance because some sections of the sign code were not made available to aldermen at last week’s meeting.

Betlach also requested that another public hearing on the sign code ordinance take place at the Board of Aldermen’s next meeting.

“Since there wasn’t a complete package available to the aldermen, I wouldn’t have expected that the constituents would have a complete copy,” Betlach said. “The business community had been attending P and Z (Planning and Zoning Commission meetings) because of their own interests, and the citizens don’t always know where to attend and where to find out. So this would give them time.”

Mayor Steve Armstrong characterized the missing information in the ordinance as “a minor clerical error” and said that another public hearing on the ordinance would be scheduled Oct. 16.

Of the information made available to aldermen last week, Betlach said she was unable to determine if the Planning and Zoning Commission had made any changes to the sign code. Betlach previously requested that the sign code be sent back to the commission for further review.

“When I sent it back, it was my motion to Planning and Zoning,” Betlach said. “Right now, I have no marked-up copy of exactly what those changes are. And there have been so many changes throughout the life of this that I have not been able to get that from the city administrator. And so when I can find out exactly what they are, then I can assess what we’ve given away.”

Aldermen also discussed the possibility of granting a special sign code in the ordinance to businesses along Lin Ferry Drive. The special code would involve reducing traffic flow near the area and making it more of a walkup business section with some flexibility for residential zoning.

Armstrong said that the proposed special code for Lin Ferry Drive would not be included in the sign code and that the ordinance as a whole would not be changed be-tween now and when aldermen vote on it in October.

“Along Lin Ferry, that’s a walking-type environment as far as businesses and stuff,” Armstrong said. “When Planning and Zoning looked at that, they kind of looked at it in a different view and then applied the same requirements with respect to signage across all commercial areas.”

In a survey solicited by the Green Park Chamber of Commerce to several city businesses, businesses reported that more space was needed to devote to window signs on business property.

The Chamber of Commerce’s survey results recommended several stipulations on business signs in Green Park that have been included in the city’s new proposed sign code. These include not allowing homemade signs and requiring maintenance of such window signs.

The proposed new code recommends that:

• No more than 25 percent of the total of all glass at a business may be used for window signs.

• No single sign may exceed 10 square feet.

• No single window panel may be covered by signs by more than 50 percent.

• If there are several small panes of glass in one window frame or door frame similar to a residential-style window frame, then the total area of all panes would be counted as one window panel.

• A business name, address, hours and an open/close sign do not count toward the 25 percent allowable for window signs at businesses.

• Seasonal and holiday decorations should not be regulated.

Armstrong has said that any businesses that were already in place before the city of Green Park incorporated in 1995 would be allowed a non-conforming use of signs. Those that did open in Green Park after the city incorporated do have to follow the code.

Armstrong also said that based on the discussion the Planning and Zoning Commission had in August, the recommendation to require that no single window panel be covered with signs by more than 50 percent of its total area was done for safety reasons. The chamber had recommended up to 75 percent of a window panel’s total area be allowed for signs. But Armstrong said because of any potential safety issues — specifically, people’s ability to see into businesses — the commission recommends a drop to 50 percent.