With an eye on ensuring its fines are more thoroughly enforced, Maryville is moving to give its administrative hearing officer sway over zoning violations.

Maryville City Council members voted unanimously late Tuesday to amend the zoning ordinance to allow an administrative hearing officer the ability to manage zoning violations.

Notes on the move show the position has the ability to leverage fines greater than the standard $50, which is what the city would charge if the violation went to court, according to City Attorney Melanie Davis’ comments during the council meeting.

The city is considering fines of up to $500 per violation for residential breaches of code and up to $500 per day for commercial violations.

“I think it was probably almost 10 years ago, the state passed a law that allows for an administrative hearing officer to hear violations of property, maintenance and building codes,” City Planner Jordan Clark told planning commissioners during an Oct. 15 workshop. “It’s kind of an alternative to court.”

The state also added zoning violations to that list, and now Maryville is doing the same. Clark told commissioners the change is based on a need. The city has its share of zoning violations including illegal signs, illegal uses, buildings that don’t meet setbacks and landscaping issues.

Clark said the way the planning staff has been handling violations is simply by sending property owners a letter telling them about the violation and asking them to pay up.

Usually things get fixed, Clark said.

“But a lot times, these things draw out for months,” he added. “And that’s inefficient for us, it’s inefficient for neighbors. And part of that is, we don’t necessarily want to have to go to city court and get a police citation and all that.”

Now what could happen to zoning violations when managed by hearing officer is this: Violators will receive a letter outlining the violation and the time they have to fix it. If they don’t, the situation will be assigned to the hearing officer who will manage penalties.

The goal is not to fine anyone, Clark noted in the workshop meeting.

“The goal here is compliance, always,” he said during the Tuesday council meeting. “It’s not a revenue source for us, it’s simply a means to get someone to comply with the ordinance.”

Planning staff still will have other options on the table. Clark emphasized that taking this new compliance route does not prevent the city from taking violators to city court: It just saves them time and effort.

Two considerations to amend the code as it relates to the administrative hearing officer were passed on first reading, both unanimously.

During the Tuesday meeting, council members also:

• Passed on second reading an amendment to fireworks regulations that will restrict their use to only four days a year along with other limitations for both buyers and sellers.

• Approved on second reading established standards for short-term rental units, making them legal in the city in certain zones and under certain conditions.

• Considered on first reading an amendment to the zoning and land use code pertaining to the site plan review process, with a proposal to hold a public hearing on the matter.

• Considered on first reading amending the zoning map to change property on Legends Way from business and transportation to residential.

• Considered on first reading amending the zoning and land use code that pertains to signs, removing the “natural materials” requirements for signs in the office transition, heritage development and Washington Street commercial corridor.

• Considered amending the ordinance that allows additional temporary signage at locations where fireworks are sold.

• Approved an amendment for the fiscal 2020 budget relative to school federal funds, with a $217,396.65 change in spending.

• Passed a resolution amending personnel rules, removing the requirement for new employees to work six moths before taking vacation or sick leave.

• Appointed Andy White to another term on the Maryville-Alcoa-Blount County Parks and Recreation Commission.

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