Weeds Be Gone: City looks to toughen ordinance for property clean up
Now that I'm a city resident, there are things (though not many) that bug me a little more than they did in the past.
One of these pet peeves is the weeds in the Salvation Army parking lot on Jackson near Ellicott. Weeds from the curb to the front door, in every crack, and weeds at the base of the light polls, and weeds along the north side of the parking lot. Not to mention the building hasn't been painted in decades and the front sign polls look like they came off a rusted battle ship.
I drive past this location every day and feel sorry for the owner of Floral Fantasies, who must try to run an elegant business next to this mess.
It's just plain unsightly.
Apparently, I'm not the only city resident who's had enough of the weeds around town. It turns out City Council members get regular constituent complaints, but the current ordinance is proving ineffective at getting property owners to make their land and buildings a little less ugly.
The proposed changes would give property owners 48 hours to clean up weeds, trash or debris once a notice has been posted on the property. If the work isn't done in 48 hours, outside crews will be brought in to clean up the mess and the property owner will be assessed the price of the clean up and fined $250. A second violation in the same calendar year would yield clean-up costs and a $100 fine.
The only controversial point in the proposed changes is that an alternative penalty is 50 days in jail. The council debated this provision for a good 15 or 20 minutes after Councilman Bill Cox raised an objection to the language.
"This is America it’s not Russia," Cox said. "We don’t put people in jail for not cutting their grass. We can fine them heavily, but even to to threaten them with jail is not what we do."
Councilman Tim Buckley took an opposing view, saying a violation of the law is a violation of the law and the threaten of jail time would encourage people to pay their fines, rather than let them slide (the city can put a lien against the property, but would have no other recourse to collect unpaid fines and bills).
"Deep in our hearts don’t want to send anybody to jail," Buckley said. Later adding, "I understand where Mr. Cox is coming form. This is America, but in America when you break the law, you pay the penalty."
Several council members, City Attorney George Van Nest and Asst. City Manager Sally Kuzon all said that sending people to jail for not cleaning up their property would only be used in extreme cases.
"I think the judges and the police officers involved would have enough discretion to recognize this is an extreme measure," Councilwoman Marianne Clattenburg said.
Removing jail time from the proposed language failed on a 4-5 vote.
Next, the proposed changes will be the subject of a public hearing. I didn't write down the date and will update this post as soon as I have it.
BTW: If somebody wants to organize a clean up crew to help out the Salvation Army, I'll set aside a Saturday to pitch in and whack a few weeds.