Carolina Beach Council Amends Tall Grass, Junk Regulations

Carolina Beach Council Amends Tall Grass, Junk Regulations

Carolina Beach Council Amends Tall Grass, Junk Regulations Featured

By / Local News / الأربعاء, 18 نيسان/أبريل 2018 15:08

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CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council approved proposed changes during their April 10th, meeting to amend regulations regarding tall grass, weeds and "junk" to make it easier for officials to take enforcement actions.

According to Miles Murphy - Town Planner - North Carolina experiences prolific plant growth during the warmer summer months and, "When the vegetation on someone’s property goes unmanaged it can cause a myriad of issues, the least of which being it. As a result, Article II was written to declare what would be a nuisance, dangerous, or offensive condition and how these situations would be dealt with by the Town."

Murphy explained, "Unfortunately, the current language in Article II provides property owners with a loop hole to avoid dealing with abatement for prolonged periods of time with little penalty. This is often an issue for tall grass. Staff is proposing a text amendment which would refine the definition of nuisances in the Town of Carolina Beach, streamline the abatement and enforcement time periods, and create an abatement fee system which would discourage continual neglect to regular lawn upkeep and other nuisance avoidance."

Murphy explained that Merriam–Webster Dictionary defines a nuisance as “one that is annoying, unpleasant, or obnoxious.”

He explained, "In the context of the Town of Carolina Beach this word is used in reference to a wide range of offensive visual, audible, and olfactory situations, some of which create potentially dangerous conditions for the residents of Carolina Beach. Many of these nuisances are quickly identified due to their obvious presence and overt inconvenience, such as “Any accumulation of animal or vegetable matter that is offensive by virtue of odors or vapors or by the inhabitance therein of rats, mice, snakes, or vermin of any kind which are or may be dangerous or prejudicial to the public health.” However, a high grass situation is gradual, only becoming a defined nuisance after a sufficient amount of growth."

He explained, "There would be no problem if the high grass or vegetation could be removed the moment it evolves from being a little long to unkempt (currently twelve inches or more in height). However, the appropriate manner by which the Town of Carolina Beach must deal with this and all nuisances requires an organized path flowing from the complaint and investigation, to the notice to abate, and finally the abatement by town upon failure or refusal of the owner to abate. It also should be noted that some of the other language in Section 18-36 is being updated to now include such things as “obnoxious odors or and stenches” and “indoor type furniture…not intended for outdoor use by a manufacturer.”

Murphy identified a "Timeline Conundrum" for the current abatement process that works well when dealing with other nuisances, but not for addressing over grown lawns.

He explained, "For high grass and vegetation it is enabling negligent property owners to cut their yards once or twice during the summer leaving it as an eyesore and creating habitat for snakes, rodents, and other pests. Chapter 18, Article 2, Section 18-37 begins the time line for the abatement with the statement “shall order the prompt abatement thereof within 15 days from the receipt of such a written notice.”

Under one current time line, based on the existing ordinance and an in-person notice of abatement, unless a property owner is handed a notice requiring them to take action to cut the grass, the average time for a certified letter to be delivered to an owner via Postal Service is 3 to 7 days. He explained, "On top of this, many recipients will refuse the letter. As a result, the property’s already high grass will be allowed to grow for another 2 to 4 weeks if the notice cannot be hand delivered."

Under another current time line, based on a 3 day mailing notice period, Murphy explained, "If high grass was investigated on May 1st, the notice was not hand delivered, and the owner delayed as long as possible to either abate or refuse to abate the Town may be unable to abate the already nuisance high grass for almost another month. The moment the grass is cut to an appropriate height it starts to grow again and 4 weeks later a negligent property owner may have grass which is deemed a public nuisance again. Due to the current time frame, a lot could conceivably go the entire summer being cut only twice and being a nuisance the majority of the time."

Under a time line where a notice takes seen days to reach the recipient, the ability to take enforcement action is further complicated.

Murphy said the current fees are not sufficiently constructed to discourage repeat violations.

He explained, "Currently, a landowner who refuses to abate the nuisance must only pay the cost of the nuisance removal and an administrative overhead fee. They do not face a penalty for refusing to abate. The current fees, coupled with the potentially long time frame for abatement, do not incentivize the property owner to maintain their lot such that it avoids becoming a public nuisance."

Murphy said several changes are proposed by the Planning Department to address those issues including amending Section 18-36 (1) of the ordinance which would be updated to also address the “accumulation of dead weeds, grass, or brush on an occupied or unoccupied lot” allowing it to be applicable to lots which unkempt but may not necessarily have high grass. Additionally, the height high grass must reach to be considered a nuisance would be changed from 12 to 8 inches. This proposed change is designed to help the time frame associated with identifying and enforcing the abatement of a high grass nuisance. The current ordinance allows for a potential of several additional weeks of growth after the high grass is already at 12 inches in height. Reducing the height to 8 inches will curtail the ultimate height the grass reaches prior to abatement.

Other proposed changes included language to improve the ability of Town officials to investigate nuisance furniture and other interior home appliances being stored or neglected on an occupied or unoccupied property as well as allow a Town Official to investigate “disagreeable or obnoxious odors and stenches.”

Another proposal is to amend another section of the ordinance dealing with the time line for abatement and the methods of notification that can be used.

Murphy explained, "The goal is to reduce the loopholes in the current abatement language which allows an inordinate amount of time to pass from investigation to abatement."

He explained the first change would be to reduce the time frame for receipt of a written notice from 15 days to 10 days for a first time offense in one calendar year.

The same section of the ordinance would give a Town official the ability to post a notice on the property which is currently in violation of Sec. 18-36. Once the notice is posted, the time frame would be 14 days for abatement for the first offense in a calendar year.

Murphy explained, "The combination of the posted notice and written notice would result in no more than 2 weeks taking place between investigation and  abatement. The posted notice would ensure than property owners who refuse any written notice would still be held accountable under a 14 day time period."

He explained, "The time frame for abatement of a second infraction within one calendar year would be reduced from 7 days to 5 days for both the written and posted notice. The time frame for abatement of a third violation within a calendar year will be 2 days for both written and posted notice."

The ordinance would also be updated to describe who the Town would designate to abate a nuisance if the Town didn't take that action using Town personnel. In short, if an owner refuses to cut their grass, the Town can hire someone or have Town employees cut the grass and bill the owner.

Murphy explained the proposed amendment calls for updating the Town's Fee Schedule.
That includes:
• 18-36 $100 Nuisance Abatement
• $50 Administration
• First Offense $50 Penalty
• Second Offense $100 Penalty
• Third Offense $200 Penalty

He explained the Town's Technical Review Committee, "Recommends the amendment to decrease staff time and create a monetary incentive for property owners to maintain their own properties, particular in regards to high grass and other vegetation accumulations. Additionally, the time frame for abatement will be shortened in an effort to streamline the process and eliminate the efforts of many property owners to stall or ignore the notices to abate" and, "The goal is to strengthen the towns ability to deal with all Article II nuisances, but particularly address the high grass situation. Instead of a property owner ignoring an abatement requests and potentially only being forced to address high grass 2-3 times over a summer, the new language and time frames will incentivize property owners to address all of Article II’s nuisances in a timely fashion."

During the Council's April 10th, meeting, Council heard a presentation from Murphy on the proposed amendments.

Councilman Steve Shuttleworth made a motion to approve the proposed changes and the Council voted unanimously.


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