Enforcement of several new yard maintenance regulations should be in full effect by spring.
“Cove does have a problem (with weed growth) and now that we have this new ordinance to work with, the enforcement is going to be much more aggressive in the upcoming year,” said Deputy Police Chief Eddie Wilson, who oversees code compliance.
On Jan. 3, the City Council amended the city’s ordinance for unsanitary property. Councilman Danny Palmer made a request to change the ordinance several months ago, calling it confusing for city staff and residents.
“What we have now is a very plain English way of explaining it,” Palmer said, after voting for the amendments.
Besides adding several definitions and limiting legal jargon, the ordinance also changed several maintenance items for properties.
According to the new ordinance, grass and weeds still must not exceed 12 inches in height. Trees on the other hand must have branches cut at least 8 feet above sidewalks and 14 feet above a roadway.
Brush, grass and weeds also must remain below 12 inches on properties 2 acres or more if it is within 50 feet of a street or a building, the ordinance stated. If the land is considered agriculture property, the vegetation must be kept under 12 inches within 30 feet of any rights of way or easement.
Cove sees a lot of high grass and weeds in the spring because that is when vegetation is in full bloom, but there are several problems because some property owners live out of the area or even the state, Wilson said.
“Enforcement does consume quite a large amount of our time because of the large amount of unoccupied homes,” said Bo Bobbin, a code compliance officer.
Residents are sometimes deployed overseas, and owners who live in other states or communities can be hard to find, he said.
How code enforcement notifies people of violations and abates properties also has changed.
The most significant change is probably the immediate removal of any grass or weeds that exceed 48 inches, Wilson said. When grass becomes that tall, it is an extreme fire hazard and causes safety other issues.
“We can send the contractors out immediately, then start the notification process,” Bobbin said.
The ordinance also requires the government to place only one newspaper legal ad if the property owner or resident of the lot cannot be notified.
For grass exceeding 12 inches, the city can still cut the vegetation 10 days after a notice was received or issued, the ordinance stated.
Fines, fees and criminal charges of a class C misdemeanor all remained the same, which is a $150 for the city trimming a parcel of property and a possible $2,000 fine. If the fines and fees are not paid, the city can place a lien on the property.
Wilson said it was not the goal of code enforcement to issue the fines but rather to have compliance with the ordinance so the city remains sanitary and safe.
“We want people to take care of the problem before we issue liens or write a citation,” Wilson said.