Code Department is here to help
By Robin Scott
As Code Compliance Officer for the City of Dalhart, Nick Martinez’s responsibilities include enhancing the neighborhoods of Dalhart, keeping the citizen’s health, safety and welfare always in the forefront, while operating in a responsive and fair manner. Martinez also strives to improve customer service and increase customer awareness, all the while respecting the property rights of citizens.
When Martinez was appointed as Code Officer in 2006, he set out on a mission not only to improve the relationship between himself and residents of Dalhart but to take the “fear” out of compliance and to ensure that he was in compliance in all areas of his own life as a property owner and member of the community.
A Code Officer wears numerous hats. One is that of building inspector, another as plumbing inspector, and yet another as electrical and construction inspector. Becoming qualified to inspect in all of those areas, Martinez has been attending classes since 2002. He celebrates his 8th year with the city on August 1st. Robert Ritchey will continue to make plumbing inspections until Martinez becomes certified.
In 2008, the city adopted the International Code Council (ICC) 2006. And the city has also upgraded the National Electric Code to 2008. Martinez has had meetings with every board regarding the transition to the new codes. Martinez noted, “We got it done and right now they have information to be able to make any adjustments or add or subtract to the code. So far we haven’t had to do anything to it, no deletions or add-ons.”
Martinez also stated, “In the beginning when I first took over this position, Hilmar Cheese had come in and we expected a big boom of construction. It has really only been moderate. But we have quite a few subdivisions/additions for new housing, about eight.” All of that property must meet code standards, and Martinez is responsible for the inspection of each. A couple of projects have either fallen through or stalled, and Martinez believes the current economy may have been the reason.
Along with new construction, Martinez inspects additions and remodels, and stated that there are few going on currently. He was also happy to report that people are buying up property just to remove abandoned and dilapidated structures. He noted, “That’s a good thing.”
Martinez stated that as Code Officer, “I’ve been doing a lot of rezoning for manufactured homes by special permit. We have an ordinance that allows a manufactured home to be approved for placement on a piece of property that was typically for a permanent structure. People do have to go through the process of application and that allows time to give people within a 200-foot radius a notice of intent. So, we listen to any objections.” Before a manufactured home may be placed on any property not zoned for a manufactured home, certain conditions must be met. Martinez noted, “The condition of the manufactured home is our main priority as far as allowing it to come into the city. One way to be allowed with only a site permit would be to have a manufactured home site where there was one previously, as long as it hadn’t been vacant for longer than six months.” He also stated that manufactured homes that are newer than June 15, 1976 and in good condition may be allowed per the city’s code. Some requirements apply such as the owner must have the deed to the lot, title to the manufactured home, enough set backs for it to fit on the property, and within 60 days it must be on a permanent foundation and skirted.
Martinez urges citizens to contact him with any questions before moving a manufactured home to any location. He stated he wants to assist the owners beforehand to ease the process and comply with code. He commented, “There aren’t any silly questions. I may even be able to learn something to accommodate the community with the question or concern. I’m trying to reach out and contact the community, via radio, newspaper and personal contact. I don’t want people to be afraid of the Code Department. And if an out-of-town contractor solicits business, I encourage people to contact me and I will talk with them and validate before bids and work has begun. That will assist the community and to help keep them from being taken advantage of.”
The Code Department covers a vast area of issues. Martinez stated, “Some of it weaves into the police department, as with animal control and parking, and the police department is responsible to initiate compliance through citations. The code has the requirements that are expected of the community. Some of it is outdated and we are trying diligently to make those adjustments.”
Martinez stated that he has learned a great deal through his position and has matured as an official. He stated he has discovered, “Property lines are the basis for everything. Where structures may be placed, fenced, anything. That’s the starting point.” He also noted, “When you share a property line you have to be wary of set back requirements and material requirements. For instance, in Dalhart, on a shared property line there must be a five-foot set back for each piece of property, which creates a 10-foot space between the structures. If you encumber those set backs and something happens like a fire, then there is a problem. And structures are ‘structures,’ whether permanent, mobile, modular, storage or temporary. The type is irrelevant because when you encumber that set back, issues may arise.” One issue is fire; another may be wind damage or even water damage. Martinez noted that owners of corner properties must comply with a 15-foot wide space and issues with right-of-ways of property lines.
Some areas within Dalhart do not conform to the code. Some may be due to a grandfather clause that does not require property owners to bring their property up to code specifications, but all new construction must comply. Others may be negligence on the part of the property owner. Others may be unexplained. Martinez commented, “This job is like a test every day, and I cannot have any wrong answers. I may have to wait on a decision and do research, or seek assistance from one of the associations I’m a part of for consultation.
Martinez stated, “My goal in this city is to get everyone to do something toward being responsible in maintaining their property. Many already do, but many still need to get going and be proud of taking care of their property in the correct manner.” Martinez stated that he has to spend a lot of time dealing with grass that’s too tall, and that should be common sense, to mow the yard. He stated, “I want our community to know about what they can and can’t do, to become aware and knowledgeable. Even something as simple as having your address visible on the house is a step in the right direction. It’s necessary for emergency responders.” Martinez looks forward to getting to where he wants to be with code compliance and encourages Dalhart property owners to contact him with any questions or issues. He noted especially, “I want residents to know I have an open door policy. I’m here to help you.” Nick Martinez may be reached by contacting the city office at 244-5511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.