Building material or debris? Bloomington wants order to enter owner’s property, remove “garbage”

Joe Davis is a self-described “unconventional guy.”

But the city of Bloomington wants him to take a more conventional approach to the appearance of his  residential property at 530 Washington St.

The city contends that it’s not just a matter of appearance. The housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department sees Davis’s property as violating the local law that says you can’t “throw, place, or scatter any garbage, recyclable materials or yard waste over or upon any premises, street, alley, either public or private…”,

That’s the basis of a series of warnings and fines that the city’s HAND department levied against the property last year. Davis appealed the fines to the board of public works, but they were upheld.

Based on the notices of violation that are included in the information packet for this Tuesday’s meeting of the board of public works, the fines total $200.

It is at Tuesday’s meeting that HAND will ask the board of public works for an abatement order, which would, if granted, allow the city to go onto Davis’s property to take the steps the city thinks are needed, in order to bring it under compliance with city code. The city would then send Davis a bill for the work.

Davis has responded by sending the city notice of a tort claim—against the city of Bloomington, the HAND department, the department of public works, and the board of public works.

Davis takes the position that the materials that are stacked around his property are building materials and tools—needed for the kind of active construction site he is overseeing. Davis takes the position that the material is not “garbage” as the city contends.

In the city code “garbage” is defined as  “putrescible animal and vegetable wastes, resulting from handling, preparation, cooking and consumption of food; refuse; and rubbish.”

It is “rubbish” that the city appears to be citing as an element that it can apply to Davis’s property. The word “rubbish” is also defined in Bloomington’s code. Rubbish means “non-putrescible solid wastes consisting of both combustible and noncombustible wastes, such as paper, cardboard, tin cans, wood, glass, bedding, crockery, construction debris, and similar materials.”

In past appeals hearings, city staff have contended that the material around Davis’s house is “construction debris.”

At a Sept. 27, 2022 hearing, Davis countered the idea that the material on his property is “construction debris” by saying, “There’s a big difference between construction debris and construction material that is useful.” He continued, “I keep no debris around my house. I keep only useful items.”

Davis added, “I’m on a fixed, very limited income. I’m semi-retired. I own my house outright. I have the ability to rebuild it, now that I paid it off completely. And I’ve been trying to do so.”

Davis said that he would prefer to spend his money on the construction of a new garage, where he could store much of the material, instead of fines. Davis told the board on that occasion, “Maybe I’m unconventional—yes, that’s true. But I still have a right to live a peaceful existence and improve that as I am able.”

In addition to the enforcement action that Bloomington’s HAND department is pursuing against the property, the city’s planning and transportation department has sought enforcement of the unified development ordinance (UDO) prohibitions against outdoor storage of “equipment, materials, waste or scrap materials” [20.03.030(e)(1)]

At its Feb. 23 meeting, Bloomington’s board of zoning appeals heard Davis’s appeal from a warning he received from the planning and transportation department for the UDO violation. The BZA denied that appeal.

At Monday’s board of public works work session, when the board previewed Tuesday’s meeting, assistant city attorney Chris Wheeler was asked by board member Elizabeth Karon about Davis’s tort claim, which was stamped “received” by the legal department a week earlier, on March 6, 2023.

Karon asked, “What’s the effect on this with the tort claim that’s in our packet?” Wheeler replied, “I don’t know, because I haven’t looked at the tort claim that’s in the packet. Sorry.”

Assuming that the request for an abatement order remains on the board of public works meeting agenda for Tuesday, and that Davis makes an appearance to defend against it, he’ll be diverting time away from another civic effort.

Davis is collecting signatures to qualify for the ballot as a candidate for Bloomington mayor, unaffiliated with any party, in the November municipal election.

Davis has filed the paperwork to establish a campaign finance committee. But he needs 352 signatures to appear on the ballot.

When The B Square checked in with Davis last week, he reported that he’s not there yet, but is getting closer every day.

6 thoughts on “Building material or debris? Bloomington wants order to enter owner’s property, remove “garbage”

  1. I guess this is a perfect example of “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”. Looks mostly like junk to me…

  2. Why is it that Bloomington and Monroe County residents also are so tolerant of others trash and poor conditions of property? A ride down any street or county road with visitors is embarrassing.I wish folks would just take some time to address trashy homes and property’s and save your fast food trash until you get to a proper receptacle this includes cigarette guts. If you love this city/county ask someone (are you going to pick that up?)

  3. His “useful materials” have been stacked in the same position more or less since at least 2014 according to aerial imagery. This includes a junk car that has not moved for almost 10 years.

  4. How about instead we prosecute the numerous landlords who are violating the ordinance (6.06.050) about allowing noxious invasive plant species to proliferate on their property?

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