Rocky Top cracking down on abandoned, junk vehicles

Rocky Top plans to crack down on property maintenance issues – including disabled or abandoned cars in the city -- by allowing the city’s codes enforcement officer to issue summonses to court for violations, the City Council decided during its January meeting.

The council – with three members present and two absent — passed a resolution 3-0 to give the codes enforcement officer, Cody Culver, special police powers to summon code violators to city court. But as a “special police officer,” Culver will still not be able to make arrests, according to City Manager Michael Foster.

Culver, a city firefighter, also serves as the city’s fire-safety inspector.

The change helps address “a combination of issues, including property maintenance and junk cars,” Foster said. “It could be junk cars or trash in the yard, weeds or other overgrown vegetation.”

To help with the crackdown on abandoned vehicles, the council approved an ordinance on first reading to amend Title 13 of the city’s Property Maintenance Regulations to define what qualifies as junk vehicles.

With this ordinance, which still faces a public hearing and passage on second reading, the city will target vehicles on the street or in people’s yards that are abandoned, on blocks, have the engine out, or have broken windshields. Vehicles also must have current-year state registration either on the street or in yards, or they can be considered abandoned, Foster said.

“We didn’t have anything in place in the codes to deal with junk cars, so this addresses that issue,” he said.

In other business, the council passed on final reading an ordinance to rezone three parcels of land along U.S. 441 from C-1 General Commercial District to C-2 Tourist Commercial District.

The ordinance covers property the city owns off U.S. 441 that it is looking to sell to developers.

“This change allows us to market it better,” Foster said. “It will allow campgrounds or certain other tourist-oriented businesses.”

The council also discussed problems local businesses are having with homeless people congregating on their property.

The city’s vagrancy ordinance only allows the police department to cite violators into city court, but not to arrest and hold them.

Rocky Top’s city court does not have authority to jail people for violations of city codes and ordinances, the council was told.

Vagrants can be arrested for trespassing and cited into General Sessions court if the property owner wants to prosecute, however, Foster said.

Police officers can tell the vagrants to move off the property of a business that doesn’t want them there, but can’t remove them from public property.

“They’re allowed to be on the sidewalks,” Foster said. “We try to be very diligent about answering these calls. We can’t order them off the sidewalks, but they can’t be in the middle of the road.”

Some businesses give conflicting information to police, with one shift’s managers allowing the vagrants on the property while a different shift wants them removed, council members were told.

No action was taken on the issue.