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Property-maintenance policy to get upgraded in Jefferson Hills

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Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Jefferson Hills Council is planning to upgrade its property-maintenance document from the existing nuisance code to one that resembles the International Property Maintenance Code, which officials of many communities have adopted.

“This will give us defensibility in front of the district judge,” said Allen Cohen, planning/zoning officer for the borough.

Definitions and the outline of general and specific enforcement points are a part of the international document and not found in the borough's current code. Communities can use the 31-page document as a guide to develop their own set of regulations, choosing among the standards written there.

A template on weeds, for example, lets officials write in exactly what they have in mind: “Weeds. All premises and exterior property shall be maintained free from weeds or plant growth in excess of (Jurisdiction to insert height in inches). All noxious weeds shall be prohibited. Weeds shall be defined as all grasses, annual plants and vegetation, other than trees or shrubs provided; however, this term shall not include cultivated flowers and gardens.”

Under the existing code in Jefferson Hills, homeowners most often have been notified about high weeds, dilapidated structures or junk and debris on their properties. Sometimes, Cohen said, regulations weren't specific enough, which leaves enforcement to seem “very subjective.”

“This will give the code officer more ability to address problems,” Cohen said

It also provides for an appeals process for residents.

Yet council is more interested in “compliance not fining,” Cohen said.

They'll take a few weeks to study a code as it was put into effect in Peters Township. This document is seen as a good one by David Montgomery, head of the planning commission.

“We could adopt this as is since the magistrate is familiar with it,” Montgomery said.

Guy Reschenthaler, the new magisterial district judge for Jefferson Hills, Pleasant Hills and South Park Township, helped to review the document when he served on the ordinance review committee, Montgomery said.

However, Jefferson Hills council isn't inclined to include rules that apply to any building's interior, as Peters Township's officials did.

Montgomery said he agrees with that rationale. Writing a whole new code would take time.

After William Shimko, borough solicitor, reviews the document, an ordinance will be developed around the sections council chooses to address in its document. If approved, a code enforcement board will be formed.

The international code is “more recognizable in the industry and in the judiciary. It's a more effective way to deal with situations,” Cohen said.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or

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