Maquoketa City Council members tabled discussion of three agenda items May 18 in hopes they can meet face-to-face with each other and the public to obtain more feedback.

The council voted 5-2 to table action on three ordinance amendments pertaining to junk dealers, a vacant building registry, and adopting the city’s first citywide building code.

As with most government meetings, the council has met via Zoom since the coronavirus pandemic reduced the number of people allowed to congregate in one space. 

Mayor Don Schwenker said he’s “frustrated” with all the video and phone meetings. 

“They’re getting old,” he said at the end of the May 18 meeting. “Face-to-face would be a welcome change.”

The city is waiting for direction from the Iowa Department of Public Health to decide when to reopen city hall and hold in-person meetings again.

Councilmen Josh Collister and Kevin Kuhlman asked that the three agenda items be tabled until after the state lifts pandemic restrictions. 

Council members Jessica Kean and Mark Lyon voted against tabling the measures.

Tabled agenda items 

The Maquoketa Property Maintenance Board made junk and junkyards a top priority for 2020. The existing ordinance regulates the purchase, sale, and storage of junk and junk materials within the city, “a common source of public nuisance in Maquoketa and other cities across the state,” according to a letter from law firm Lynch Dallas, which the city pays for legal work.

The maintenance board proposed amending the city’s existing junk dealer ordinance by clarifying terminology and the process for enforcing the rules as well as changing fees.

Under the proposed amendment, a junk license would be required to buy, sell, or store junk in public view. Doing so without a license means the city could impose a municipal fine.

Mallory Smith, the city’s property maintenance inspector, would approve or deny the license if the applicant meets zoning, fencing, and other requirements.

Applicants whose license has been denied or revoked would be able to appeal the decision first to Smith, then, if necessary, to the city Zoning Board of Adjustment. 

The proposal limits licenses to a one-day duration for $5 or one year for $50.

The Property Maintenance Board also proposed an ordinance to initiate a vacant building registry.

Maquoketa has 50 to 100 vacant properties, Smith estimated during earlier meeting.

Such a registry would be especially beneficial to the police and fire departments so they know which buildings are empty and whom to contact in case of emergency, the board said.

The registry would pertain to all manufacturing, commercial, industrial, mixed occupancy, and residential buildings that have been partially vacant for 180 days (four months).

Under the proposed ordinance, owners of vacant buildings in Maquoketa would be required to register the properties with the city, to provide contact information for the owner or authorized representative, and to agree to maintain the building and grounds in a “safe and sanitary manner.”

Under the proposal, the owner would submit a Vacant Building Registry Application within 30 days of the building becoming empty. 

The registration would last one year.

The owner would pay a fee to be set by the council. The initial recommendation is a $35 fee.

• Currently, no city rules – except for a rental inspection ordinance – govern the quality and safety of new construction in Maquoketa, and that must change as the city grows, city officials have said. 

A building code would set the standards that must be followed when building new structures within the city. Structures would have to conform to the code, which could set standards for such things as foundations, site drainage, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire code, etc. 

A city-appointed Building Code Task Force recommended the council adopt three established standards: The International Residential Code, which is the recommended standards of the International Code Council, The International Building Code (IBC), which addresses commercial structures, and The National Fire Protection Life Safety 101, which specifically addresses fire prevention.

The city council can modify the codes to fit Maquoketa’s needs.

Under the proposed codes, various building projects would be subject to inspection.

All three items will return to the council for future discussion.