Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias For the last two years, the city, businesses and volunteers have joined together in an effort called Operation Pride with the goal of sprucing up Vermillion, and their efforts have exceeded expectations.

Vermillion Beautiful, Inc. has also done much to improve the aesthetics of the city. The organization has planted trees, and this year is organizing a substantial flower planting project in the city's downtown area.

We laud these efforts, but Operation Pride and Vermillion Beautiful, Inc., despite their best efforts, can't solve all of the city's image problems.

It is time for city government to play a larger role in helping the city meet its beautification goals. One of the best ways it can do that is by simply enforcing zoning and nuisance ordinances that are already on the books.

We realize that's not a particularly easy job. It takes time and resources.

It's time, however, for Vermillion citizens to realize that the aesthetic benefits of bringing run-down property up to code outweigh the burdens imposed on private property owners.

We believe that such findings easily can be justified, based simply on balancing the monetary loss of the property owner, who must pay to clean up his or her property, against the corresponding gain to the public by promoting or enhancing community, neighborhood or area appearance.

Vermillion leaders should consider these relevant factors:

(1) Protection of property values;

(2) Promotion of tourism and other economic development opportunities;

(3) Indirect protection of public health and safety;

(4) Preservation of the character and integrity of the community; and

(5) Promotion of the comfort, happiness and emotional stability of area residents.

We know that other city residents believe there's much work to be done.

"I would ask that you take a close look at Vermillion when you are out and about," James Abbott, president of the University of South Dakota, said last January in a speech at the Vermillion Development Company/Vermillion Chamber of Commerce banquet. "Some of the housing in and around our town appears to be substandard. I note numerous abandoned vehicles in yards, not to mention unoccupied houses with broken windows.

"Surely there are or should be ordinances which prevent blight of this nature," he added.

Vermillion has such ordinances. However, for some reason, perhaps a variety of them, they haven't been enforced effectively.

The result is what you see when, as Abbott suggested, you take a close look at Vermillion. One can find neatly trimmed lawns and brightly painted houses in one block, and piles of junk, weeds, and peeling siding on homes in the next block.

It's not just the people appreciative of a neat and tidy neighborhood who suffer when their neighbors don't properly care for their property.

Everyone in the community suffers. Vermillion's image is tarnished.

It's difficult to pinpoint all of the reasons for Vermillion's image problem.

We suspect, however, that the philosophy upon which code enforcement is based in the city actually contributes to the problem.

Vermillion has heavily relied on code enforcement by a complaint basis. But citizens who file complaints often fear retaliation or confrontation from the person who they complain about.

That's why we believe that citizens must feel that they can look to their city government to handle the problem for them.

Since March, the Vermillion City Council has been struggling to correct a code enforcement problem on Cottage Street.

Frankly, it doesn't look like the problem there is closer to being solved, despite the efforts of City Inspector Farrel Christensen to abate the issue.

We believe city leaders must find more effective methods to deal with property issues in order to make any progress in sprucing up Vermillion.

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