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Wednesday, April 30,2014

Grass, weed remedies

Bernero administration planning big changes to code compliance ordinance

by TODD HEYWOOD
Mayor Virg Bernero and his administration are preparing to introduce amendments to the city’s code compliance ordinance that would effectively eliminate property-owner notifications of alleged code violations.

The plan, first mentioned in a Colonial Village Neighborhood Association meeting on April 16 by Scott Sanford, the city’s lead housing inspector, would shift notification to twice yearly public announcements aired on local television and published in various outlets. After that notice had been published, those who violate the city’s ordinance on length of grass and weeds, or the snow removal ordinance, would be subjected to contractors’ fixing the issue without further notification by city officials.

The proposed changes could hit City Council anytime, administration officials say.

Currently, when a violation of grass and weeds is received by code compliance, officers have to travel to the property in question and inspect it. There are thousands of such actions each year: In 2013, there were over 8,000 weed notices issued.

If they find a violation, they then have to send a letter to the property owner and resident providing them seven days to fix the problem. The officer then has to reinspect the property when that seven-day period has elapsed. If the problem still has not been addressed, the city can hire outside contractors to remediate the problem. There are hundreds of these actions, and they cost violators hundreds of dollars in fees and actual contractor payments. There were just under 1,000 contractors in 2013.

“Mayor Bernero believes our current nuisance enforcement process is cumbersome and ineffective as it relates to grass and weed violations, as well as snow and ice removal from sidewalks,” Randy Hannan, Bernero’s chief of staff, said in an email. “In both areas, the current notification period is excessive and does not lend itself to prompt resolution of quality of life concerns in our neighborhoods.”

Hannan said city residents are already well informed about city regulations as regard to grass and weeds or snow shoveling.

But Carolyn Dunn, a resident of Colonial Village, said she thought the rule on grass was 10 inches. It is actually eight inches.

Mike Morosky and Dunn were two of the neighborhood members present at the April 16 meeting. While initially they expressed support for the plan, they harbor some reservations.

“Anything that can speed it up and get the neighborhood looking good, is good,” says Dunn. She noted, as did Morosky, ongoing problems with bank-owned foreclosures.

Morosky noted that city officials have told him that much of the delay in addressing problem properties has to do with the backlog of contractor orders. Something the proposed changes would not address.

Both noted it could take months and sometimes years to address code viola tions on a property. The question is: Why the delay?

Councilwoman Carol Wood said there are many issues related to the delays on contractors responding to code compliance requests. She said since she has been on the Council, the body has repeatedly been told contractors are backed up three weeks during peak periods. That, she noted, shows the problem with the “prompt” resolution concerns cited by the Mayor’s Office.

“The question is: Do we need to have more contractors on the payroll during peak times?” she asked.

She says she is not opposed to revisiting the notification time period for grass and snow violations, but she believes there must continue to be personalized letters. She says she has heard the amendment would require public notification using sources as diverse as utility bills, recycling bins, newspaper advertisements and cable television channel notices.

She points out that the onetime notification might be a problem for people with disabilities, or someone who has been unexpectedly hospitalized or even for a resident who is working two or three jobs and there has been a significant amount of rainfall causing grass growth spurts. How do those people protect against a code compliance contractor showing up unannounced, and the resulting costs that will be billed to the property taxes?

Code compliance was recently transferred to the Fire Department for oversight. Along with the transfer came new enforcement zones and a web system designed to allow anonymous complaints to be filed against property owners. Inspectors are required by city policy to respond in a timely fashion to complaints received, including the anonymous ones.

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