PLYMOUTH – A group of residents just outside of Plymouth’s south side are caught in something of a zoning ordinance Twilight Zone – they’re neither city residents nor fully considered within Marshall County’s jurisdiction – and it’s causing frustration.
And the center of it all is a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath eyesore home in their midst.
The home at 11190 Manor Drive – outside of the city’s limits, but within the city’s two-mile zone – has left both city and county officials somewhat confused on which municipality is responsible for enforcing zoning ordinances for the property.
The two-mile zone surrounding Plymouth and other Marshall County towns is a zoning designation. The county cedes most authority in the zones so the individual towns can control their growth.
The green, two-story home sits about 100 feet from Manor Drive, mostly cloaked by a blanket of trees and overgrown bushes and brush.
“You should see the home,” said James Stuckmeyer, whose residence along Forest Drive sits behind the Manor Drive home. “It looks like the roof is going to fall through.”
Neighbors said the home has been vacant at least since the death of Teofila DeJesus in 2014. DeJesus’s husband, Dr. Jose DeJesus, died in 2000. The couple’s three surviving daughters all live out of state, according to Teofila DeJesus’s obituary. A published telephone listing could not be located for any of the daughters. Jose and Teofila DeJesus are still listed as the property’s owners, according to county records.
To help resolve the situation, City Attorney Sean Surrisi and Building Commissioner Keith Hammonds are expected to meet with members of the Marshall County Unsafe Building Committee later this month to discuss the Manor Drive home as well as general issues connected to the two-mile zone.
“I think the county’s unsafe building committee has been reluctant to step on our toes in the two-mile zone,” Surrisi said during Tuesday’s Plymouth Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. “But yet they have powers in the two-mile zone that the city doesn’t have. We only have powers in the two-mile zone to act under our zoning ordinance.”
Under the city’s zoning ordinance, Surrisi said, the city only has the power to send a letter to a property owner notifying them that they could be fined if they don’t correct a violation, such as uncut grass, within 15 days. If after 15 days the violation isn’t fixed, a second letter is sent telling the property owner they have been fined. If another 15 days pass, and violation still isn’t remedied, it becomes an ongoing violation.
Fines are added to the property’s tax bill, Surrisi said. The property’s tax bill is up to date.
However, the city attorney said, the state does give the city the power to tear down an unsafe structure, but that authority is limited to the city limits. The county does have the power to declare a home unsafe under its unsafe building ordinance, Surrisi said.
The city attorney said fining the property’s owners would likely not serve as a deterrent in the case of the Manor Drive property, so city officials will meet with county officials to discuss possibly resolving the issue through the county’s unsafe building ordinance.
“What we’ve heard from (Marshall County Commissioner Mike) Delp, who I think has spoken to one of the relatives of the property owner, (is that) apparently the property owners were instructed by their parents who used to own this property and they’d like to maintain it as a shrine in their parents’ memory,” Surrisi said. “Which, I guess, means just leaving it as is.”
On Thursday, the city attorney said no specific action will be taken at the meeting with the county’s unsafe building committee. While the Manor Drive home will come up, he said the city and county’s general relationship in the two-mile zone will be the main focus of the discussions.
“I am glad I’m seeing this Manor Drive (home) finally coming to a head,” Delp, who is on the committee, said Thursday. “We’ve got to solve this problem in the two-mile zoning boundary. The people are just not being represented. I’m not blaming the city or anybody else. It is sort of an issue without representation there. As I see it, boiling down, it is the city’s responsibility to patrol that and handle that area. We’ve just got to figure out a good way for them to do it … It’s just got to be talked through and worked through so we’re all on the same page with it.”
Along with county Building Commissioner Chuck DeWitt, the county’s unsafe building committee is made up of representatives from the health department, planning department, adult protective services and officials with Bourbon, Bremen, Argus and Culver.
“I’m pleased you’re going to do this,” BZA member Mark Gidley, who represents the two-mile zone, told Surrisi. “For the past 12 years the biggest fight we’ve had to deal with is the finger pointing between the city and the county as to who is responsible for what in the two-mile zone. I’m very happy to hear you’re at least going to try to get part of it straightened out. Because those of us who live in the two-mile zone essentially get no representation.”
If you go
The Marshall County Unsafe Building Committee will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, in either the commissioners’ meeting room or the emergency management room on the second floor of the county building. It is open to the public.