BEULAH — Benzie County commissioners abruptly bulldozed a new property maintenance code they’d recently enacted to help dismantle the county’s most blighted buildings.
The county board quietly adopted an International Property Maintenance Code in February, but public response to the new code was anything but quiet. More than a 100 people showed up Tuesday at a raucous county board meeting to criticize the code, which allows the county to cite property owners for excessive weed growth, accumulating garbage, junker cars, improper ventilation of structures and failure to install rodent shields on basement windows.
“I think it was ill-conceived,” said county resident Larry Hilton, of Frankfort. “This is way over the top of what was needed. When you have a code that can be applied to most of the residents of this county, you create a Pandora’s box that can be opened by anyone at the county with an agenda.”
An outpouring of opposition prompted county officials to quickly rescind the code. They will revisit the code at a later date with an emphasis only on buildings that pose a threat to public safety and health.
The policy arose from concerns about eyesore properties in the county, including the so-called Question Mark building in downtown Honor. The nearly 100-year-old building is decrepit, condemned and infested with rodents.
And it’s right in the middle of Honor’s downtown corridor, an area targeted by an economic redevelopment plan known as the Honor Area Restoration Project.
The village of Honor and the county unsuccessfully tried for years to prod the Question Mark’s owner to raze the building. County Administrator Chris Olson said in February that something needed to be done about that building and others like it. Others in the county voiced the same opinion and led to the new property maintenance code.
“This is not about having the government come in to take care of something,” Olson previously said. “It’s about making property owners responsible for their property.”
Honor Village President Robert Theobald echoed that sentiment at Tuesday’s meeting. A select a handful of county residents are ruining the county’s appeal to tourists and residents by leaving their properties in a chronic state of neglect, he said.
“It’s about the select few people who want to trash this beautiful county,” Theobald said. “People do not go where there’s a trash bin.”
But many residents called the property code a government overreach and a threat to property rights. One meeting attendee spoke of the need for the commission to “repent” and “pray” over its code enactment.
The code also prompted multiple attendees to reference Agenda 21 — an obscure United Nations environmental treaty that encourages biodiversity and sustainable development, but which some see as a road map to a one-world government.
“Agenda 21...wealth redistribution,” said Ted Mick of Blaine Township, adding “this hoax of global warming...all of this is to cause a panic and get redistribution of wealth throughout the world.”