Dairy Queen manager Barb Anthes says this large pothole is not on their property.
Nearly 10 months after the city passed an ordinance to hold businesses accountable for the conditions of their parking lots, progress has been made, but ownership issues make enforcement complicated in some cases. That’s according to Clark Sanders, senior planner for the City of Gillette.
To address the problem of parking lots with serious potholes, the city passed an ordinance last November, which increased fines for property owners with lots harboring significant potholes. Sanders said that the ordinance was intended to motivate property owners to provide quality access and parking while eliminating dangers that affect the health, safety and welfare of residents. According to Sanders, the ordinance is having its desired effect.
When they receive a complaint from a citizen about a particular parking lot, Sanders said that city staff inspect the area and, if a violation is noted, activate a case against the landowner. A violation letter is sent out. The owner is then given an opportunity to fix the potholes or, in cases where weather is a factor, to provide a temporary fix and submit a plan for a more permanent solution to be implemented later.
Sanders mentioned a few businesses with pothole issues that the city has already addressed, including the entrance off Highway 59 into the Dairy Queen and Las Margaritas parking lot, as well as an area adjacent to Papa Murphy’s.
Barb Anthes, manager at Dairy Queen, said Monday that the question revolves around ownership of the actual lot. Pointing to several large potholes on the north side of the building, Anthes said Dairy Queen doesn’t own the problem area of the lot.
“We fixed a big section on the south side of our lot last year,” she said, “even though we didn’t own it either. You can look at our lot and tell which part is ours because it’s concrete and there are no potholes.”
According to Anthes, the lot to the north of her establishment is owned by someone who now lives in Arizona. The owner occasionally rents the lot out, she said, but new tenants don’t stay long and don’t have a vested interest in fixing the holes.
Sanders confirmed that the lot next to Dairy Queen is owned by the W.M. Grace Company, based in Arizona. The city sent a letter to the company last week. According to Sanders, they may not have received it yet, adding that the city is willing to give the company an opportunity to take care of the matter themselves.
“We have options if a company fails to respond in a timely manner,” Sanders said. “We can choose to abate the lot ourselves and bill the company. And according to the ordinance, we have the power to put a lien on the property if the company won’t pay.”
Barb Anthes is hopeful that the company will take care of their problem.
“We get blamed for it, even though it’s not ours,” she said. “We aren’t fixing someone else’s lot again.”
The entrance to Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza off Country Club Drive is another significant pothole problem, according to many residents. Kylee, a manager at the popular pizza destination who declined to provide her last name, said the problem is not theirs.
“People use that entrance to cut through to Walgreens,” she said. “It’s not actually in our parking lot.”
Kylee said the business did significant work to their own lot a couple of years ago.
According to Sanders, Kylee is mistaken.
“The access from Highway 59 which aligns with Country Club Road is shared between the owners of Papa Murphy’s and a group out of California named Rhino Holdings Gillette, LLC, which is in conjunction with those who are in the same building with Hobby Lobby,” Sanders said.
According to Sanders, the city has received a letter with plans for fixing the area, and temporary patches have been made to the Hobby Lobby parking lot.
Troy McKeown, owner of Don’s Supermarket on West Second Street, says parking lot repairs are a constant battle.
“We have a lot of ground water here, and with our weather, there are always issues,” McKeown said. “We end up having to work on it every year.”
McKeown said that during winter, sometimes temporary patches have to be used until conditions allow for more permanent fixes, but he keeps up as best he can.
Sanders said the city didn’t have to send a letter to Don’s about their lot. The supermarket fixed problems on their own.
“Their situation is another interesting one, because the roadway into the Don’s lot is owned by another company, and that’s where the problems are now,” Sanders said.
Sanders said the land the affected roadway is on is owned by the Jill A. Small Trust. No action has been taken by the city at present.
The city has not had to resort to fining a business as of yet, and Sanders said that was never the intention in the first place. According to the ordinance, businesses can be fined up to $750 per offense for failing to adequately address potholes deemed significant, and each day that the issue remains unaddressed can be counted as a separate offense.
“The city hasn’t had to fix any private lots to date,” Sanders said. “It is a possibility, but the intent of the ordinance is to motivate landowners to make the repair themselves.”
Gillette Communications Manager Geno Palazzari said the ordinance was a 100% citizen-led endeavor.
“This has been a regular request from citizens for us to have some method to abate the problems with parking lots and easements,” Palazarri said Wednesday. “If an emergency service vehicle can’t access an emergency scene, or suffers damage because of a big pothole, it’s the taxpayers who pay for that.”
The city’s pothole ordinance is having the desired effect, according to Sanders. Still, issues of ownership complicate the process of making sure the city’s residents have adequate access to businesses. Sanders said he hopes the city won’t have to take aggressive action against a business, but the option is still there.