BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A new business that has opened in the 800 block of Avenue E has drawn the attention of residents, business owners, and now the Fort Madison City Council.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting, a business owner and an apartment owner on the block expressed their displeasure for the late night, and early morning, loud music coming from “Jus’ Try It”, local coffee, pastry and gaming house that opened last month at 809 Avenue G.
One business owner in the area said there has been loud music coming from the store front the past two weekends, sometimes until 4 a.m.
“The first time I gave them the benefit of the doubt and didn’t call the police,” the owner said. “The second time was pretty bad and I called the police at 11 and officers responded.
“One of our brave officers tried to break it up and one guy said there was no law that he couldn’t have the the music that loud. The police said there was nothing they could do.”
The resident in the area said the city needs to have more authority to do something with disturbances that run into the morning hours that is disrupting the lives of others in the area.
Fort Madison Police Chief Mark Rohloff presented an amendment to the city code to clean up language regarding noise disturbances.
Rohloff said city code has mirrored state code on the issue, but a 2019 Iowa Supreme Court ruling found a portion of the disorderly conduct wording vague and unconstitutional, so the city has been somewhat handcuffed on noise violations.
The amendment was passed the council unanimously on the first reading and prohibits the operation a device that produces or reproduces music or other sound that can be heard from 150 feet by any person in a public area. It also says no motor vehicle that disturbs the peace can be operated in a manner that is plainly heard 300 feet from any person in a public area.
The move, which requires two more readings and approvals, also prohibits yelling, crying or use of any other devices that ‘destroys the peace of a neighborhood’.
Rohloff said he sought out assistance from the city’s attorneys and requested the item be placed on the agenda to correct the deficiencies in city code regarding the noise issues.
“If a responding officer could hear the offensive noise it would be a violation based on distance,” Rohloff said.
The code revision also addresses urinating outdoors and would make it a violation if someone witnessed someone urinating outdoors even on private property.
“We found that we had situations occur multiple times in the past year, where an individual was urinating in public view, but on private property, which according to code was an unenforceable act. The wording is now changed so that if it was visible it’s a violation.”
Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker said the move was a good first step, but cautioned that trouble spots, which include repeated complaints regarding the downtown business, as well as residences in the 1400 block of Avenue F, need to continue to be monitored.
“I applaud the language and it’s a good first step, but are we going to allow these people to have free reign during the reading of the ordinances,” Bowker asked.
“The people in the 800 block of G and 1400 block of F continue to deal with this while we go through the readings.”
Bowker, who owns a building in the downtown area, also suggested other options including a downtown curfew and additional landlord empowerment.
“There’s too much chaos, abuse and harassment in these areas that are not being addressed. We need to be able to go to those areas and say they are violating ordinances. I’m not looking for a police state, don’t get me wrong,” she said.
Councilman Robert Morawitz said the issues pushed a bit on free speech, but then said he’d like to see something in city code about burning the American flag.
In an unrelated issue, the council recreated the Construction Board of Appeals by a unanimous vote and assigned Kristi Roach, Tom Schulz, Glenda Schneider, Ron Walker and Doug Kennel to staggered terms on the board.
The council missed reinstating the board two weeks ago, when they couldn’t get a supermajority approval on the ordinance, or suspending the required three readings.
In other action, the council:
• approved a contract with Meyers Driveway and Septic Service of Keokuk for $329,044 for the Henry Ladyn Sewer relocation, which is part of the slip ramp to allow easier access to Hwy. 61 for Siemens-Gamesa windblades. The total cost is reimbursable by the Iowa Department of Transportation.
• approved a contract with Jones Contracting of West Point for the Fort Madison! Phase 3 PORT Connector trail from 48th Street to Fort Madison Community Hospital.
• approved a resolution of support for a National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi River Pool 19 after hearing a presentation from the Lee County Conservation District.
• approved Mayor Matt Morhfeld’s signature on an agreement for a Surface Transportation Block Grant in the amount of $1,011,400 in engineering and reimbursement expenses for the next phase of the Hwy. 61 rehabilitation project from 6th to 10th Streets. The council also approved a services contract with Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission to administer the grant.
• approved the purchase of a new garbage truck at a cost of $149,952 from Elliott Equipment of Davenport. The vehicle being replaced will be auctioned off.
• heard from Lake Cooper Properties owner Doug Abolt about his concerns of the impact of the first phase of the Hwy. 61 rehab work near the former Sheaffer Pen building. Abolt said the city has not worked with him regarding the impact of the project on his property and asked for a meeting with the mayor and staff to discuss the issues, which include the loss of a third access point to the property.