Erie City Council wants greater transparency over code enforceme - Erie News Now | WICU & WSEE in Erie, PA

Erie City Council wants greater transparency over code enforcement inspections

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ERIE, Pa. -

Erie City Council President Cas Kwitowski says the city's code enforcement department never told council the inspections meant to clean up bayfront neighborhoods would lead to something more.

"I think we were blindsided by the scope of the enforcement," said Kwitowski following Thursday's study session of the city's multiyear comprehensive plan, Erie Re-Focused.  "We have a council liaison (Councilman David Brennan) and time after time he wasn't informed."

Kwitowski is referring to months of complaints Council received after inspectors began what residents believed was "targeted" enforcement on select bayfront homes for seemingly small violations, such as uneven handrails. Meanwhile, inspectors were not citing nearby blighted homes.

Kwitowski pressed Code Enforcement Director Andy Zimmerman during Thursday's meeting to answer why the city would issue building permits for something they later deem a violation.

"Buildings change, people change things," Zimmerman said. "You don't always have the same thing and every building is different."

"I heard tonight that that 'we make mistakes'," Kwitowski said referring to a statement Zimmerman made about his department. "Well yeah, you're making the same ones."

Kwitowski said some of the notices residents received were regarding work the city approved earlier this year.

But Zimmerman and other city leaders call the inspections in recent months a success. The work is part of the city's comprehensive plan, which calls for focusing on bayfront neighborhoods first before moving inland even if blighted properties exist elsewhere. No citations are issued, only letters asking residents to fix the problems, which include everything from dilapidated homes to smaller issues, like the handrails.

Neighborhood organizers are already seeing some early success stories from the program with residents coming together making basic repairs on their home.

"Property owners have received letters from the code office, and that has spurred them to make some changes and improvements that they knew for the most part they needed to make," said Anna Frantz, who leads Our West Bayfront neighborhood watch group.

Moving forward, council is asking the city to be more transparent, not just for them, but also Erie residents. To do so, Councilman Bob Merski suggested the two sides host a pair of meetings -- one on each the west and east side of the city -- to inform the public in greater detail of the inspections and what they entail.

"Council's not against them," said Kwitowski. "We just want to know what's going on."

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