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Move it or lose it: City OKs junk car rule

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If one of your neighbors has a junk car in his driveway that won’t run or that doesn’t have a valid license plate, the city of Columbus now has sharper teeth in its abandoned vehicle ordinance to resolve the problem.

After several months of tinkering, the council voted 5-1 Tuesday night to approve an ordinance establishing a process to tow cars at the expense of the vehicle’s owner or the occupant of the property where a dilapidated or unlicensed vehicle has been sitting for all to see.

“If we have one car that’s a problem, it’s one too many,” said Councilman Dascal Bunch, who joined the majority in voting for the ordinance. “We’re not saying there’s a major problem, but if we put this ordinance in effect, it will give us something to work with.”

The council’s vote gives the city of Columbus a slightly tougher junked car ordinance than Bartholomew County now has on its books, city attorney Jeff Logston said.

The county’s rule says a vehicle must be inoperable and unlicensed to be considered a nuisance. But the city’s new rule says the vehicle can be cited if it’s inoperable or unlicensed. It doesn’t have to meet both criteria to be targeted.

Brad Grayson, president of the Bartholomew County Landlord Association, described the ordinance as ill-conceived and a vote that endangers residents’ property rights.

“This is a vote against the poor, who are having a tough enough time making it already,” Grayson said, suggesting some people just can’t afford to get a car fixed on demand. “It’s another way to kick the person who is down.”

But Robert Brown and his wife Sharon, both retirees, said they’ve had periodic problems with a neighbor using an inoperable van for storage and then hauling another vehicle in by tractor-trailer to sit in his driveway.

Bunch also took issue with Grayson’s contention that the new ordinance works against poor people.

“I keep hearing about these poor people, but they can’t be any poorer than I am,” Bunch snapped back at Grayson at one point during the debate at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The ordinance passed its first reading at a City Council meeting on Jan. 21. On Tuesday night, the council gave the ordinance a second official reading and final passage. Council member Frank Miller was the only one to vote against the ordinance. He said it had too many flaws in his view.

Mayor Kristen Brown supported the new ordinance. She has described the junk-vehicle law as a first step toward eventually ridding Columbus-area properties of trash, out-of-control vegetation and other debris.

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