The Grand County Council has unanimously approved new definitions regarding “refuse, debris and junk,” voting 5-0 to explicitly describe the conditions that result in certain materials being codified as “junk.” Some council members advocated for such descriptions April 4, arguing that the change would reduce the amount of subjectivity involved when a code enforcement officer responds to complaints of junk, refuse and debris violations.
“I was trying to put myself in the shoes of a code enforcement person,” said Grand County Council member Chris Baird, who drafted the definitions the council eventually adopted.
“I think a list of materials by themselves doesn’t really help take the subjectivity out of the process,” he added.
During a public hearing on the subject March 21, Baird raised issues with the definitions of “refuse, debris or junk” that were approved and recommended by the Grand County Planning Commission.
Those definitions described “refuse, debris, or junk” as “any salvage, scrap, or inoperable appliances,” listing specific materials like copper, steel, rags, wood and chemicals. According to that proposal, refuse and debris could also include registered vehicles and “inoperable, wrecked, or unregistered vehicles.”
But Baird argued that those definitions might unfairly spotlight machinists and mechanics — like him — who store scrap items on their property for use.
“My concept of junk [is] based on not what material it is but what condition it is, and how the property owners are taking care of it or not,” Baird said.
Under Baird’s definitions, “refuse, debris or junk” includes but is not limited to certain materials like vehicle parts, metal, wood, and chemicals that are kept in “unkempt condition.”
The amendments later define “unkempt condition” with phrases like “disorganized,” “unnecessarily scattered,” and “constituting a fire hazard.”
To some extent, Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine agreed with Baird’s approach to the junk definitions.
“I do agree that glass — in and of itself — is not a problem. Glass smashed and scattered throughout a property [is],” Levine said. “The condition of the material is helpful. I struggle with trying to interpret what ... ‘unkempt’ or ‘unnecessarily scattered’ means.”
Levine told the council that all attempts to define “refuse, debris, and junk” in the land use code simply stem from an effort to make code enforcement more efficient. The county is still searching for a code enforcement officer, who would work from Levine’s community development department and respond to a variety of land use code violations.
“What I’m trying to do is make the job of an eventual code enforcement officer easier and more clearly defined when it comes to addressing complaints,” Levine said.
Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald recommended that the definitions surrounding “junk” be simple, adding that complex terms might make certain cases difficult to prosecute.
Under the county’s proposed code enforcement protocol, the code enforcement officer is given a directive to send two notices to a violator before issuing citations. If the code violation is still not corrected after the issuance of a citation, the protocol states, the county attorney will determine whether to pursue legal action.
“I don’t want to have a very difficult burden in proving a case because the definition got really complex,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald explained to the council that his office has pursued “junk” violations in the past, adding that those situations are usually quite “extreme.”
“I don’t think there’s anyone in this room that would disagree that those cases we moved forward on are ... junk and an eyesore and a danger to health safety and the community,” Fitzgerald said.
According to Fitzgerald, during the course of past court proceedings it became clear that violators typically do not have the financial ability to clean up their own properties.
“They don’t have the means to get rid of this stuff. They’ve recognized probably for some time that they’ve needed to,” Fitzgerald said. “ ... It’s expensive, hard work.”
Levine said that if the county wants to prioritize refuse, junk and debris violations, they potentially need to financially incentivize cleanup efforts.
“The reality is that if the county wants to prioritize cleaning up some of the major collectors of unkempt materials, then it’s probably going to take some resources, because as [Fitzgerald] alluded to, some people simply don’t have the means to clean up their properties,” Levine said.
Moab resident and Grand County Planning Commission member Joe Kingsley is currently restarting a “cleanup committee” to help community members voluntarily come into code compliance regarding junk on their properties.
“The citizens committee is active and trying to formulate a volunteer program,” Kingsley said. “Hopefully, by the end of April [the committee] will be in a position to start soliciting donations from citizens that want to help with the clean up.”
Grand County’s newly adopted definitions regarding “refuse, debris and junk” can be found online in the April 4 agenda packet at grandcountyutah.net.