Spring cleaning may soon have a new meaning in Manassas.
The City Council is scheduled to consider a resolution at tomorrow's meeting that focuses on making neat and tidy neighborhoods a priority by aggressively enforcing existing zoning laws, said the resolution's author, council member Andrew L. Harrover (R).
After listening to complaints from residents, Harrover toured the city and found "a lot of stuff that needs to be cleaned up." He found it difficult to verify if a home was overcrowded by driving by, but he noticed other issues, such as multiple vehicles in back yards.
When he looked at the city code, he discovered people are not allowed to park cars on grass, but the rule was not being enforced.
"This is not the chipped-paint squad. I'm not looking for someone who has a cracked shutter. Instead, I'm looking for people who do things like this," he said.
Neighborhoods in disrepair, with trash flowing across front lawns and run-down commercial properties, cause stress and do not promote a safe community environment, he said.
"If you were living in a house and the guy next to you has cars in the back yard and there are other problems in the neighborhood, you aren't inclined to get involved in that [community]. You will be worried about your own house," Harrover said.
Neighborhoods have been asking the city to help them with problem areas, and this is an effort to solve those issues, be it with bigger trash cans or additional police patrols, said City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes. Many complaints are related to crowding.
"If we can't do a frontal assault on overcrowding, then let's attack the symptoms of overcrowding," said Hughes, who listed noise, abandoned vehicles and parking as a few of those symptoms.
Freshman council member Jonathan L. Way (R) said the proposal is not solely about the side effects of crowding but more about "targeting junk" throughout the city, including vacant properties.
Harrover said he wants to see more zoning inspectors hired or city employees shifted to zoning enforcement. He said Manassas's one inspector for its 40,000 residents is insufficient compared with Herndon's six inspectors for about 22,000 residents.
There were more than 80 outstanding complaints at the end of December when the empty zoning inspector position was filled, said Lorene Payne, zoning administrator. Those cases have been inspected and are in compliance, she said. The office has been able to investigate complaints within three days, but that could change once she learns what the council's proposal fully entails.
"I do know we can be overwhelmed very quickly when we try to catch every violation. If that is what they want us to head towards, we will definitely take a look at their directive and try our best. And if we fall short, we will let them know why," she said.
The proposal calls for various city departments to work together in their specialized areas to tidy neighborhoods. Kisha Wilson-Sogunro, the city's neighborhood services coordinator, has been meeting with homeowners associations to boost community participation and encourage associations to preserve neighborhood aesthetics by using their covenants. The police department will crack down on nuisance crimes, such as loitering and public drunkenness, said Maj. Donald McKinnon Jr., deputy chief of the Manassas police. The city also wants to launch a task force of community leaders and department heads to tackle larger issues, Hughes said.
"I think it is clear that increasing enforcement could necessitate some hard choices in the upcoming budget, but it is worth doing. Strong neighborhoods are the foundation of the city," Harrover said.
After a 60-day review, city staff will present a case for "what should be done to the zoning codes, if anything, and whether we have enough staff to do what the council expects," Hughes said.