Coweta delays action on grass, weed heightBy SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
The Coweta County Board of Commissioners delayed action on implementing a grass and weed height restriction for yards in the unincorporated county — over concerns about property rights, clarity, and fairness.
The commissioners voted Tuesday to table an amendment to the nuisance ordinance regarding “rank plant growth.”
No one spoke about the ordinance during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
The commissioners approved the current ordinance several years ago. It limits growth of grass and weeds to 12 inches in height in a platted residential subdivision and in any commercial lot. The ordinance also regulates the accumulation of junk and trash as a nuisance and health and safety hazard.
The ordinance has been used by the county to clean up abandoned properties.
Properties not in a platted subdivision could be cited for accumulation of junk and trash, or for being a health and safety hazard, but not simply because the grass is too high.
The ordinance only applies to the “yard area” of a residential lot, and does not apply to “controlled natural growth.”
The intent of the amendment is “just to expand this,” said County Administrator Theron Gay. “We’re not going to be riding up and down the street to see whose grass is high,” he said. Instead, the amendment will give the county the ability “to address issues and concerns.”
The current ordinance “has been pretty successful in getting a lot of properties cleaned up,” Gay said. “At this point, we have dealt primarily with a platted subdivision. This will expand it into residential uses other than platted subdivision.”
Commissioner Tim Lassetter said he thinks rules need to be the same, whether a house is located in a subdivision or not.
But, “I want us to be cautious” when it comes to defining yards and the height of grass, Lassetter said.
The commissioners approved the cleanup of one property not in a subdivision earlier in the meeting.
“We went though the process just like we were supposed to. And anybody that visited that piece of property would see it was unhealthy and unsafe to the people that live in that neighborhood,” Lassetter said. “That is the issue that I want to make sure we’re addressing. And that is the one that concerns me the most.”
“I know I have some natural area on my property. I don’t have a reason to cut it,” Lassetter said. “I don’t think it would be right for us to be telling anybody what they can keep natural or can’t.”
Commissioner Paul Poole said his father-in-law has a five-acre property, and “there is a little area cleared” around the house. But what if he decided he “didn’t want to keep it cleared anymore? He should have the right to let it grow back up,” Poole said.
“I think we need to be real careful here,” Poole added. “I understand what you’re saying on safety and that kind of thing,” he said.
But “we’re talking more of a rural area than we are a subdivision area, and that is why I think we’ve got to be real careful.”
In other areas of the county, “your yards are not as defined” as in a subdivision, Poole said.
“Again, I don’t argue the bit about safety. We all want safety butâ ¦ what is the right height?” he asked. “In the rural part of the county, it’s really just a lot harder to define that,” Poole said.
Commissioner Al Smith asked about the differences in the old and new ordinances. “If it is a residential property, platted or not, I think that the ordinance should be the same,” Smith said.
Commissioner Bob Blackburn asked if the criteria in the ordinance are clear and objective, or subjective.
“I think that they would have to be very clear cut,” Gay said. “I think the code enforcement officer is going to look very closely at this,” he said.
“You’re going to have to have a real problem, I think, before he would go out and try to address it,” Gay said.
“He goes out and works with you any way he can,” Gay said of the code enforcement officer. “If at the end of the day he is not successful,” that’s when the issue comes before the commissioners and the county has the problem addressed and then puts a lien on the property to recover the cost of cleanup.
Each time that happens, approved landscape contractors submit bids, and the low bidder is chosen.
Most of the properties the county cleans up are foreclosed homes that are between owners.
“We’ve had a lot of good feedback on the ordinance because we have been reasonable with it,” Gay said.
“It’s triggered by a complaint, not by somebody riding around,” Blackburn said.
“The safety and health issue is the main concern here,” Blackburn said. “As long as they clearly define the parameters where they can go in and issue the citation, I think it is in the best interest of the public to do away with a nuisance like that,” Blackburn said.
“The good thing is we can direct staff to work on this” Lassetter said, and come up with a version that will allow the commissioners to “get to a comfort level that we may not have at this point.”
“There is a lot of the county that is still rural,” he said. And what is acceptable plant growth in the rural areas is different from what is acceptable in a subdivision.
“I think that is a good idea,” Gay said. Maybe they can come up with a better definition of “yard area.”
Chairman Rodney Brooks brought up the earlier vote on the unsafe property.
The ordinance, as it stands, allows the county to “go in and clean up properties that are a health risk,” he said.
But as for the amendment, “I think we are violating rights, especially property owners’ rights, if we try to regulate the plant growth,” Brooks said. In rural areas, “you’ve got to draw a fine line. That is part of our character in this county,” Brooks said.
“If somebody wishes to let their yard grow up” and that person doesn’t live in a subdivision, “I think that is their prerogative, that is their right,” he said.
Brooks said he thinks the ordinance could create some problems — especially if neighbors are having a dispute about something.
“I see a lot of potential here for there to be a lot of questions,” Brooks said.
“I think this is going to create more of a headache than it would actually help,” he said.
Plus, “where are we going to draw the line? If the house is 100 years old and is vacatedâ ¦ are we going to start cutting their property every two months?” he asked.
“We’ll go back and take a look at it and hopefully readdress the issue,” Gay said.