By SARAH BRADBURY
One of the hottest topics discussed at Monday night’s Board of Supervisors meeting was overgrown vegetation in the county and a proposed ordinance calling for a $50 fee for the first violation and a cumulative limit on violations.
The county ordinance requires property owners to keep vegetation cut to a minimum height of 12 inches within 150 feet of any existing building or structure, within 50 feet of any public street or roadway, or along any private street or roadway which was platted and constructed as part of a subdivision development.
Twelve inches is the national limit on grass height, so the county must comply with that standard, and cannot lower or raise it. The proposed ordinance will encourage property owners to cut their grass themselves, which the county hopes will aid in reducing rodent inhabitation.
Citizens took turns during Monday night’s public hearing — some expressing contempt for tall grass encroaching on their neighborhoods, while others expressed concern for those unable to properly care for their yards.
David Stanberry of Dublin spoke on behalf of his daughter, son-in-law and grandson, who live across the street from overgrown vegetation in Rolling Hills subdivision. He said there are dead rats and trash in the yard. “I’ve had it,” he said.
Board members expressed their concern for the matter, even after Stanberry said he would be embarrassed to be a public official in this county, triggering a gasp from members of the audience. “I believe when this passes, this (property) will be one of the first places we go,” said County Administrator Pete Huber.
Lora Lineberry of Newbern was one of those concerned with the $50 fee people will be charged if their grass is cut by the county. She asked if the Board would consider a payment plan for elderly people on a fixed income. Board of Supervisors Chairman Joe Sheffey said that was something they could consider, and Huber said a plan like this is already in place.
Another county citizen, Debbie Ring of the Skyview subdivision, says there are houses in her neighborhood with yards that haven’t been mowed all summer. She said one yard is home to a fire hydrant that cannot be seen due to overgrown vegetation. This brought up a question regarding bank owned property and whether or not banks would be held to the same standards. The Board told citizens there is no exclusion in this ordinance for bank owned property.
Excluded from the ordinance are trees, ornamental shrubbery, vegetable and/or flower gardens purposefully planted and maintained by the property owner or other occupant as long as they are free of weed hazard or nuisance. Real property actively farmed for crop production or maintained as pasture land for livestock grazing purposes; natural “hazards” or any active and operational golf course, undisturbed woodland otherwise not in violation of the ordinance where predominant tree height is four feet or greater and any areas separated from buildings, structures, streets or roadways, by trees and/or bushes of sufficient density and maturity to screen such areas from direct views of any grass and weeds beyond will also be excluded.
The ordinance states property owners will receive a notice to cut and/or remove vegetation from the county administrator, which will describe conditions, attention and action from the property owner. If the owner fails to comply, they will be deemed in violation of the ordinance and the county will have to step in to do the work. The cost will be billed to the property owner and must be paid within 15 days of the date on the bill, or it will be certified by the county administrator and passed over to the county treasurer to be collected as taxes. At that point, levies will be collected and all charges not collected will constitute a lien against the property.
Notices will be served in person, by publication, posting or by certified mail. If property owners are not county residents, notice will be sent to the last-known address of the nonresident owner, according to what is shown on the current real estate tax assessment books or records. Nonresident owners will also have 15 days to comply.
Penalties for violations include property owners being subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $50 for the first violation, with subsequent violations being subject to the same real property and the same set of operative facts not to exceed $100 per day. Each business day that passes after which notice has been received will constitute a separate offense, but in no event will a series of violations stemming from an original violation exceed $2,000 in a 12-month period.
An email was sent to the Board by Michael LeBarre, of Dublin, who was not in attendance, stating he was “confident most subdivision property owners would welcome this regulation,” and that he hopes “people, whose properties are out of compliance, will step-up and maintain their investment.”
LeBarre says he is concerned with not only the visual aspect of unruly vegetation, but also the safety issues that may arise. The email states there are two lots in LeBarre’s subdivision on Ruebush Road in Dublin “overgrown with mature vegetation. One had building material moved in, and a footer dug, before the job was abandoned.” LeBarre states these lots are close to a curve in the road making it difficult for residents to exit their driveways. He also says these areas are a “haven for wild life and insects, and in the fall the weeds release their seed.”
Board member Andy McCready moved to adopt the proposed ordinance with some modification and all board members were in agreement, other than Vice Chairman Charles Bopp, who voted against the ordinance.