Annetta Ramsay: City’s code enforcement approach outdated, picky

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Jim Christal’s Denton County pioneer family owned one of the first grain mills in this area. When Jim was 2, his father was killed by Indians. When he was 12, he went to work for Burk Burnett on the 6666 Ranch where he earned the rank of cowboy.

He eventually re­turned to Denton as the county tax collector. Jim was a prolific reader who corresponded with Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. He visited with R.H Evers and wound the clock in the courthouse each day.

Jim was also the president of the bank whose building still stands on the corner of Locust and Hickory streets on the Denton Square. He designed and built the house where I currently live.

If Jim Christal returned to his Denton home and lived as he did in 1906, he would go outside to retrieve the morning paper, and step in dog waste as he collected beverage containers, cigarette butts and litter.

Code enforcement would cite him for keeping a horse in the carriage house, for keeping a rooster instead of a yippy dog, for the pile of coal next to Mounts Street, for a dirt driveway absent of gravel and for tall grass and weeds because landscapes did not exist in 1906.

Welcome home, Mr. Christal. 

Denton city code expects residents to maintain historic houses alongside aesthetic concepts developed many decades after they were built. Whether you call it code enforcement, code compliance or the Pretty Police, Denton’s Code Enforcement Division is just picky.  

People living in the historic district are custodians of quirky properties who maintain houses in neighborhoods that were not built to code.

We clean up problems created by people passing through our neighborhoods with no assistance from the city. If something happens in a historic neighborhood, we have hours, not days, to correct the problem before we are in violation. On at least one occasion, I received a letter two days after I cleaned up someone else’s mess. 

Residents without prior cardiac problems may develop them upon reading code enforcement’s initial letter, which is threatening, repetitive and confusing. A technical writer needs to untangle the letter.

Code enforcement officials publicly proclaim that the upswing in the number of citations is good because so many cases are closed. As someone who has repeatedly had cases opened and closed by code enforcement, I disagree.

Enforcement officials believe their recent citation spree on Bolivar Street inspired residents to do more. The city of Denton can probably find better ways to inspire people. 

Denton’s current enforcement approach appears to be overkill. The so-called proactive approach means that each citation prompts a review of an entire street, rendering violations ranging from obvious to nit-picky. Older properties bordering more than one city street may face double or triple sanctions. 

We need to define exactly what we wish to achieve. Older neighborhoods are quirky. Some people revere them for their charm. Newer neighborhoods are more predictable. People choose to live in different neighborhoods for different reasons.

City code and enforcement officials should respect these differences. 

The current approach to code enforcement is outdated. It harkens to the 1950s when people were more concerned with appearances than with what was best for the environment or the long term.

Asking people on Bolivar Street to add 4 inches of gravel, boards and pavestones to driveways that always existed as dirt is applying a modern aesthetic to an older property. The city appears to be saying the house can be from the 1920s, but the landscape must conform to the 1950s.

Now, the residents of Bolivar Street have gravel in their yards and street. Should the city impose that framework on property owners? What value did this create?

Could the city of Denton ever be courageous enough to completely toss the current approach to code enforcement and come up with something that really works for our city?

City code is clearly someone’s opinion about how Denton should look.  The question is, do the residents agree?

ANNETTA RAMSAY has lived and worked in Denton since 1980. 


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