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BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
The controversy over the possible adoption of the state maintenance code continues.
Thursday evening, the Culpeper Town Council spent 30 minutes listening to John Walsh, chairman of the Virginia Maintenance Committee, explain how the system works. Then the members spent another 30 minutes debating the merits of adopting the code.
Although last night was the second time in a little over a week that Walsh, who is also maintenance code director for the city of Fredericksburg, appeared before the Culpeper lawmakers, he assured them that he was not pushing for adoption.
"I want to make it clear that I am not advocating anything," Walsh said. "I'm just here to provide information and answer questions."
Walsh suggested that if Culpeper does adopt the code, which deals with the unsightly or unsafe conditions in either rental properties or private homes, it should take baby steps in doing so.
"You don't want to jump into the deep end of the water too quickly," he said.
Walsh advised that a complaint-based code be adopted, one that would give the town authority to investigate only problems that residents (or the maintenance director) point out.
He also suggested that, once a complaint is registered, a series of steps be taken to deal with the problem. The first would be a letter advising the property owner that a complaint was filed. The steps would continue on to legal action if the problem was not addressed in a certain amount of time.
He hastened to add, however, that in 14 years in the Fredericksburg job he had been to court only twice. "These problems usually get fixed long before it comes to that," he said.
Walsh said that about 80 percent of Virginians live in areas--mostly urban or suburban--where the state code is in effect.
Councilman Billy Yowell expressed reservations about adopting the code.
"I almost see this as getting into the housing market," he said. "There are people hurting [financially] out there who would like to make repairs but can't afford to." Yowell was also concerned about the cost of hiring an inspector, who Walsh said would require state training, to administer the proposed ordinance.
He said this would take the focus and money away from the town's desire to hire an economic development director.
Councilman Ben Phillips also worried about a director that went looking for homes with broken windows or peeling paint. "I don't think I want someone cruising our streets looking for problems," he said.
The council took no action on the issue, which will likely resurface on the August agenda.
Public Works Director Jim Hoy told the council that the North Main Street widening project, including the roundabout near Wendy's, was scheduled to begin next year.
There will be a new traffic configuration at the entrance to Grand View (near St. Luke's Lutheran Church) as part of the North Main Street widening process, Hoy said.
He added that construction on the controversial inner loop road, which will contain a second roundabout less than 200 yards from the one on Main Street, is also set to begin in 2013.
The total cost of the two projects is almost $20 million.