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Officials to consider weed ordinance

July 21, 2010 - For the third time since 1998, the Oxford Township Board is going to consider creating an ordinance to deal with the uncontrolled growth of grass and weeds.

"The village (of Oxford) has an ordinance. Orion has an ordinance. All around us everybody has an ordinance, except Oxford (Township)," said Gary Terenzi, a township resident who lives on Coryell.

Last week, Terenzi requested the board create a weed/grass ordinance because of all the unoccupied, bank-owned homes in the township, one of which has become such a nuisance on his street that he and his neighbors began mowing the one-acre lot themselves.

"When we cut that grass the first time, there was all kinds of field mice running around because the grass was over 18 inches high in the back," he told the board. "I shouldn't have to be doing that. The bank owns that house. They should be doing it."

"We're not asking you to do a whole lot," said James Wilfong, one of Terenzi's neighbors on Coryell. "We're just wanting somebody to take charge, to go after these banks to take care of the property that they own. That's all we're asking."

Terenzi indicated overgrown properties are a threat to a neighborhood's health and safety as they can attract rodents, snakes and bugs.

"Something needs to be done with this," he said. "If you lived next to this house, you would not like it."

Overgrown properties also affect the values of neighboring homes and their marketability. "Property values are going down enough," Terenzi said. "You don't need anymore of this in your neighborhood."

"You try to sell a house like that with a neighbor like that, you think you can sell it? No," he noted.

"If our property values go down, you guys are out of a job," Wilfong said. "You're not going to be making any money from us on our taxes. To me, it's to your benefit to keep our neighborhood looking nice."

Terenzi said the township's ordinance could be as "simple and clean-cut" as Oxford Village's language. It doesn't need to be as complicated as Orion Township's ordinance.

"Orion, they got six pages on their thing. That's ridiculous," he said. "Nobody's going to even pay attention to that."

In response to Terenzi's request, township officials voted 5-2 to direct the planning commission and its ordinance review subcommittee to develop a weed/grass ordinance that 1) controls height; 2) distinguishes between large and small lots; 3) has no requirements for a specific weed enforcement officer (i.e. the township can use its existing ordinance enforcement officer); and 4) has an administration fee that's a percentage as opposed to a direct amount.

"I think we've needed the noxious weed (ordinance) for a while," said Treasurer Joe Ferrari.

"We need to have ordinances to make sure that things are kept up proper," said Trustee Joe Bunting.

But not everyone on the township board was enthusiastic about the prospect of regulating residents' greenery.

"I have a problem telling people what to do with their property when they're living there," said Supervisor Bill Dunn. "I believe in personal property rights. I can understand your problem. I can sympathize with it, but I've got this basic problem with property rights."

Ferrari pointed out that a person's rights end when they adversely affect someone else.

"I don't mind what you do on your property as long as it doesn't affect my property value," he said.

Dunn pointed out how difficult it would be to enforce such an ordinance given all the extra paperwork, mailings and documentation that would be required.

"It's going to put a lot of burden on our existing staff," he said. "I don't think we'd have the time to do that."

"I don't want to have an ordinance out there that we can't enforce," Dunn continued. "We've got thousands of places around here that may need to be cut."

Terenzi pointed out the township could simply enforce the ordinance only when someone files a complaint.

"You wouldn't have to go looking for property," he said. "The other ones you don't bother with until somebody files a complaint."

Dunn explained if the township goes after one overgrown property because of a complaint and not all the other properties, it could be accused of "selective enforcement" and taken to court.

The supervisor said a person could argue "there's thousands of people here with yards, why are you picking on me?"

Or in retaliation, the person could file a complaint against the entire Waterstone development.

"It would just be a nightmare," Dunn said.

Trustee Sue Bellairs voiced her opposition to having a weed/grass ordinance because of the selective enforcement issue as well as other reasons.

"I'm personally not in favor of a weed ordinance only because I've seen neighbors pitted against neighbors," she said.

Bellairs was also concerned about such an ordinance dictating what people's yards can and cannot look like.

She said "some people have wildflower lawns" and technically "wildflowers are weeds."

"I understand (Terenzi's concern) because I live next to one of those repossessed houses, but I also like my rights, too," Bellairs noted.

It was suggested that the ordinance could only be directed at abandoned and/or unoccupied homes, however, that idea was not incorporated into the approved motion.

Both Dunn and Bellairs indicated they could go along with something like that.

"All I'm asking for is a little relief here, so we have some teeth to go after the abusers. That's all I want," Terenzi said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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