Bowling Green City Council’s Community Improvement Committee on Thursday held a public hearing to get residents’ input on, and discuss, a series of pending ordinances focused on property issues.
Receiving the most attention was an ordinance focused on exterior property maintenance in the city.
The legislative package document created for council about the matter noted that the mayor and city council had identified exterior property maintenance as a goal, and that the new chapter in the city ordinance will be used in coordination with existing codes.
The proposed code states that its purposes “are to protect the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens and inhabitants of the city by preventing property deterioration and by establishing minimum standards governing maintenance, appearance and conditions of all residential and non-residential premises; to fix certain responsibilities and duties for owners and occupants; to authorize and establish procedures for the inspection of residential and non-residential premises and to fix penalties for violations of this code.”
The seven-page code includes 12 sections, and outlines a procedure for violations. It states in part that where a public nuisance or violation of this code is found to exist, a written notice from the property maintenance officer shall be served upon the person or persons responsible for the correction. The notice shall specify the violation or the violations committed, what must be done to correct the same, and a reasonable period of time (not to exceed 45 days) to correct or abate the violation.
Violators or any provision of this chapter shall be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor.
Kathleen Dennis, a member of Bowling Green Save Our Neighborhoods Group (BG SONG), read a statement to the committee, saying the group was encouraged by the ordinance, which “heralds the advent … of a future BG where well cared for vintage homes command a viewshed along tree-lined streets, complimented by well-placed native landscaping. We can begin to imagine dumpsters hidden from view, no longer offering up the unpleasant sight of overfilled containers and overflowing debris. … With this and other ordinances now being discussed and considered, we, as a city, may be able to enhance the appeal of our lovely older neighborhoods and develop equally appealing new neighborhoods as we continue to grow.”
Dennis’ statement further included nearly two pages of suggested amendments, additions, and discussion.
City Attorney Hunter Brown responded to committee Chair Joel O’Dorisio in reference to an email from O’Dorisio in which he seemed to question whether the proposed ordinance was constitutional. Brown said he took issue with that, saying that many communities have similar codes, including Perrysburg, Ottawa Hills, Sylvania, Oxford and Miami.
“It would be easier probably to list the communities that don’t have a code like this than the ones that do, if you could find one,” Brown said. “I don’t think there’s any path toward unconstitutionality here,” he added later.
Brown said that, since July, residents have been able to report nuisance properties via the city’s website. In that time, there have been 113 submissions. He said that the idea behind the proposed ordinance was to give the city another tool to address property issues.
“This is a very common thing that communities have, and I think it would be a beneficial tool for the city to have,” said Brown.
The committee approved suggesting that council add amended language from Kathleen Dennis’ statement concerning windows to the ordinance, which reads “Windows shall be fully supplied with window glass which is glazed and is without open cracks or holes, and maintained so as to exclude adverse weather elements from entering the structure.”
The legislation was forwarded to council unanimously.
Also discussed was an ordinance creating Section 99.21 of the codified ordinances regarding managed natural landscape. Among the requirements, such landscapes “may include plants and grasses in excess of eight inches in height and which have gone to seed but may not include any noxious weeds and must be maintained as to not include unintended vegetation or turf grass” and “may not include any planting, which due to location and manner of growth constitute a hazard to the public or may cause injury or damage to person or property when such growth is in violation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.”
Resident Rose Drain, president of BG SONG, said the group supports the idea behind the ordinance, but expressed concern that the language in it was not strong or descriptive enough to assist home and business owners on how it might be implemented. She said that raised the issue of potentially messy and unruly landscaping. She suggested that the matter be tabled until more specific language is developed, and proposed that a group of city staff and others be formed to work on the matter.
Answering a question from committee member Jeff Dennis, Brown noted that the legislation was suggested by concerns for the city to be able to manage its right of ways for safety reasons. He said there has been a growing demand for this kind of matter nationally having to do with sustainability.
Additional discussion on this legislation continued, including a concern brought up by committee member William Herald that it could allow vegetable gardens in front yards. He suggested language that could prohibit that, but Jeff Dennis and O’Dorisio said they would not support such a change, O’Dorisio saying “gardens should be permitted as a right.”
Jeff Dennis, however, supported suggesting altered language to council saying that managed natural landscapes can’t be planted in the right of way so as to present challenges for safety purposes. The suggested language was approved and the committee unanimously voted to move the matter to council.
The fourth ordinance discussed would amend and adopt a portion of Section 99.20 of the codified ordinances regarding the duty to cut noxious weeds, specifically the notification procedure when a property is determined to have such weeds. According to the legislative package document, the process involves providing a written notice posted on the property and allows five days for compliance.
As the code is currently written, the city has to post this notice for every occurrence. In looking at the process, the city is often posting notices at the same properties throughout the growing season. This ordinance makes the change that notice shall be given on the first offense within a calendar year and adds: “Further offenses at the same address require no further notice or posting by the municipal administrator in the same calendar year.”
O’Dorisio noted that, currently, the city can notify a property owner if the grass is above eight inches in height or there are noxious weeds going to seed on the property. If the issue is not addressed within five days, the city is then able to hire a lawn service which mows the property at a rate of $150 and hour.
“I’m concerned that it’s very aggressive,” said O’Dorisio about the proposed changes. “I think entering a person’s property after one notice per calendar year is pretty intrusive.”
Brown said that the changes arrived out of suggestions from the Planning and Zoning Department. Currently, it can be difficult to track the timing of when which notice was sent last to which property.
“It’s a lot of work for the Planning and Zoning Department, especially for the few repeat offenders that we have,” said Brown. “The theory is that we would help them out with this by having only one notice every calendar year … This is more intended for people who just flat out refuse to respond,” Brown explained later, after additional discussion.
“I think maybe some amendments to this might be warranted,” said Jeff Dennis. “I think it’s a policy that’s got merit.”
Herald moved to suggest amended language to council, that there would be a notice sent on the first and second offenses in a calendar year. That suggestion was approved unanimously, as was the motion to recommend the matter as amended to council.
Additionally discussed was an ordinance amending portions of Section 70.40 of the codified ordinances regarding inoperable vehicles. The committee voted unanimously to recommend the matter to council.