Rio Communities City Council to weigh in on three new ordinances

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The Rio Communities City Council will soon be considering adopting three different ordinances dealing with health and safety, nuisances and animal control.

The council will vote on whether to adopt the ordinances, which Mayor Mark Gwinn says "are vital to the community" on Tuesday, May 13.

The first of the three ordinances, titled "Health and Safety," mainly deals with trash in Rio Communities. According to a draft of the ordinance, no one "shall permit the accumulation of debris, refuge, rubbish or garbage, trash or other similar material to accumulate on any portion of their property …" that "constitutes a detriment to the public health and a fire hazard to the community."

If trash is allowed to accumulate within a period of five days after being notified by the city, the city will remove it and a lien will be placed on the property for the incurred expense.

The proposed ordinance also addresses illegal dumping of trash, scrap tires or any solid waste. Vacant lots or lands that have been subject to repeated dumping may be secured to prevent future occurrences, such as permanent fencing, ditch or berm or placement of a 4-foot high posts at different intervals.

Signs stating "no dumping" will be erected on the vacant lands that have been subject to illegal dumping.

The ordinance states that whenever litter is discovered that contains the name of a person, it shall be presumed that the person is in violation of the ordinance. Those who have been found guilty, can face a fine of up to $500 or forfeit their vehicle, business license or perform community service.

During a public hearing last week, several residents complained about the amount of trash that has accumulated in the city, including Louisa Gabaldon.

Gabaldon, who has lived in Rio Communities for 41 years, says the area used to be a "beautiful place to live — it's not anymore."

She told the council that Goodman Avenue has become "trashy" and that people are throwing their tree limbs as if the road were an alley.

"It hasn't been cleaned in three years," Gabaldon said. "We have grass growing on the side of the road that's as tall as a car. Chinese elms are growing on the side of the road, which is very dangerous because people are driving on the middle of the road to avoid the trees."

Saying she's disappointed by the amount of trash in Rio Communities, Gabaldon says she's seen some yards that haven't been cleaned in three years.

"I was so proud of being a resident of Rio Communities," she said. "Now, it's very displaced. It's very trashy. It's ugly."

Gwinn thanked Gabaldon for speaking out and said that the ordinances, if passed, will hold people accountable.

The council will also consider adopting an ordinance titled "Public peace, morals and vice," which includes public nuisances, refuse and waste, illegal dumping, weed control, graffiti and noise.

According to the draft, residents would be prohibited from accumulating waste, refuse, junk, overgrowth of weeds and allow graffiti to remain.

Property owners or occupant of a property must keep weeds on their property no higher than 20 inches or any accumulation of weeds on their land, including any curb, gutter and sidewalks. If the ordinance is not complied with, the city will send a letter notifying the owner of the violation and will give them a 10-day warning.

If the property owner does not comply and cut the weeds, the city would perform the task and then send out a bill that would have to be paid within 15 days. Failure will result in a lien against the property.

Anyone who violates this section of the ordinance is subject to a fine not to exceed $50 and each day in which the violation continues to occur.

When graffiti is located, the city may provide paint free of charge to the owner of the property to help remove the blight, but it will be the owner's responsibility to paint over the graffiti within five calendar days after receiving the paint.

If the private property owner chooses not to remove the graffiti and the city obtains consent to paint, the owner will be charged only for the actual cost.

Anyone convicted of graffiti will be found guilty of a petty misdemeanor and required to perform 60 hours of community service and pay restitution to the property owner.

The next section of the ordinance deals with excessive noise and persistent vibration that would be a serious hazard. It would be illegal for anyone to allow loud noises, such as music, television or musical instruments that is audible at a distance of 50 feet from a house, except for permitted devises, such as those used at public parks, sporting events, parades or school grounds.

The ordinance also says it is illegal for someone to play a radio, stereo, CD player, etc., that is "plainly audible from outside a motor vehicle at a distance of 50 feet …"

It would be illegal for anyone to produce loud noise during nighttime hours, such as loading and unloading refuse, allowing any animal to create noise that is audible for 10 consecutive minutes, lawn care and vehicle repair.

The exceptions to the ordinance include sounds generated in business, industrial and mixed-use zoning districts that are necessary, emergency work situations, activities regulated by federal law, religious services and from construction and maintenance to public roads, highways and bridges.

The permissive levels, which were taken from the Society of Audible Engineers, include decibel levels of 55 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and 45 from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. in residential areas; 65 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and 45 from 10 p.m. to 7 p.m. in commercial zones; and 75 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and 60 from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. in industrial zones.

The third ordinance deals with animal control issues, such as licensing and vaccinations, animals running at large, cruelty to animals, vicious animals and kennels.

Dogs are permitted on the streets or public places only if they are secured on a leash not exceeding eight feet in length and under the physical control of the person holding the leash. They are not allowed at city-sponsored events.

Service animals shall be admitted to any building open to the public and to all public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, etc.

Any stray animals found in the city will be impounded. If a stray is wearing a license or bears any other identification, an animal control officer will notify the owner of the impoundment. If the owner doesn't reclaim the animal within three days, it may be adopted, sold or humanely euthanized.

All dogs and cats over the age of 3 months shall be vaccinated against rabies and be licensed by the city. Licenses, which cost $3 for each neutered or spayed dog and $5 for each unspayed or unnuetured dog, will be issued each year by the city or a local veterinarian. Owners of an animal found without a dog license will be fined $10.

Breeders will have to obtain a license or pay a litter fee of $25 for each litter. The fee may be refunded when proof of sterilization of the female animal is submitted.

Each hobby breeder will pay an annual fee of $50 in lieu of fees for individual litters. They cannot advertise the sale, barter, exchange or give away unless proof of a litter fee is displayed.

No animal is allowed to run at large, and those found will be declared a nuisance. The ordinance also states that it is unlawful for anyone to chain or stake any animal on any property in the city of Rio Communities.

Citizens are also restricted to how many animals they can possess. According to the ordinance, no one shall own, harbor or keep more than a total of four dogs and cats over the age of 3 months.

Gwinn did say those who currently have more than the allowable amount of pets will be allowed to keep them, although they will still need to be licensed.

Anyone who is violation of the ordinance will be found guilty of a misdemeanor and can be fined of not more than $500 or imprisoned for not more than 90 days. Owners of animals cited for stray dogs shall be fined:

• $25 for the first impoundment within a 12-month period;

• $50 for the second impoundment within the same 12-month period;

• $75 for the third impoundment within the same 12-month period; and

• For every impoundment after the third, violators will be fined $300.

To review the proposed ordinances, pick up a copy at Rio Communities City Hall, 303 Rio Communities Blvd., or at the Tierra Grande Improvement Association, 480 Rio Communities Blvd., or request an electronic version by sending an email to info@riocommunities.net or by calling 861-6803.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.