Logan council candidates square off on landlord licensing and park strips at USU debate

Landlord licensing and the controversial park-strip project were the main issues addressed by four candidates for Logan City Council at an hour-long debate Wednesday on the USU campus.Steve Stokes and Tony Wegener both came down against both the park-strip project and landlord licensing. Wegener, a native of Perth, Australia, said he thought the city initiated the park-strip project too quickly. Because there were questions that weren’t resolved beforehand, the city now faces a lawsuit by property owners who feel the city acted outside their authority, he said.”There’s legal questions whether or not Logan city actually followed their own ordinances or violated their own ordinances on this. Now a judge is going to rule on that,” Wegener said.Wegener received a round of applause from the audience when he invoked the right of citizens to park on city streets without paying a proposed $200 yearly fee. One elderly lady had received three tickets and was told by the current City Council that she would have to learn to live without parking her car on a parking strip, Wegener said.”I thought it was disappointing and rather tyrannical of our current city government to tell someone that ‘You can park there, but you’ve got to move your car every 21 hours,’” Wegener said. “I would stop and deal with each (neighborhood situation) on an individual basis. You can’t just apply a blanket ordinance to all of the situations that exist in that area.”Steve Stokes, who makes his living in construction and property management, said that the city should have come to a compromise before they started taking out the parking strips. He suggested that the city could offer property owners a “double wide” parking strip rather than the 8-foot-wide “postage stamp” driveways currently allowed.”They could have totally avoided this lawsuit,” he said. “They could have avoided a lot of people having to pay $200 a year to park on a public street. Why should the government charge … to park on a street that the citizens own?”Stokes said he would like to see the ordinance changed in a way that would allow everybody to have a double-wide parking strip if they need it.Now that the city has almost finished the contentious project of replacing parking strips with sidewalks and sod, incumbent candidate Dean Quayle said the benefit to the city is easy to see.”I think it was a commendable and courageous effort on the part of the City Council,” said Quayle. “Surely it was controversial, but it needed to be done.”Quayle referred to a number of “before and after” pictures of park-strips throughout Logan and said he thinks the city looks better now. He doesn’t think the decision will be reversed at this point even if Stokes or Wegener get elected, because the three current council members will “stay the course” on the project, he said.Holly Daines, whose qualifications include 20 years of service on various community boards and organizations, said the council did not change or create any new laws in the park-strip project, rather they chose to begin enforcing their ownership of the park-strips. She said she believes the park-strip removal project has beautified Logan.”As Logan gets older we need to maintain older neighborhoods, make sure they stay strong (and) they stay beautiful. That would really enhance our community for the long term,” she said.Daines, Quayle and Stokes also received applause throughout the debate for their various opinions.Asked how the candidates could justify a proposed landlord licensing ordinance that might increase students’ rent in a down economy, Quayle said he didn’t see how the proposed $25 licensing fee would end up raising rents, since the single fee covers a landlord’s license no matter whether they own one unit or a hundred. Quayle, who spent 15 years working in industrial safety management, said the landlord licensing issue would not have been raised if there wasn’t a problem already.”One thing it could do is make your rental unit a better, a safer place,” Quayle said. “If you’ve got gross living conditions or severe safety issues in your house and the licensing program causes that to be rectified, then goodness has been done.”Daines agreed with Quayle’s analysis of the proposed ordinance. She said the city currently has no feedback system for bad landlords.”If you’ve ever had a landlord that hasn’t been willing to deal with issues, if you’ve had problems that you’ve had a hard time getting fixed … there’s no mechanism to deal with that. If we don’t have licensing, then how do we go about trying to rectify the situation?” she asked.Wegener, an architect whose company helped design the Old Farm student apartment complex, said the city will have to inspect every one of the 1,700 rental units in Logan each year, an enormous task in itself, made more difficult by the fact that the inspectors will have to interpret code for each building according to what the city code was at the time the building was built or remodeled.”I don’t know if you have any idea how difficult that is going to be,” he said. “What is going to happen is that those inspectors are going to be empowered to make decisions and it will be law, and you’ll have no recourse. That is going to increase your costs.”Stokes, who said he rents to 71 tenants, was also against the ordinance. The proposed $25 fee for landlords would include costs down the road that will get passed to renters, such as paying for upgrades to meet code and paying a fee to contest the building inspector’s determination if necessary, he said.Judging by their enthusiastic applause, the audience of about 100 students and community members seemed equally divided in support of both sides of the two major issues at the debate. But Daines made the point that the election should not be decided on the two narrow controversies. There are much more pressing problems that Logan city will need to deal with during the next four years, such as traffic congestion on Main Street, economic growth versus open space, and air quality, she said.

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