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Thornville Council tries to weed grass ordinance

THORNVILLE – To weed or not to weed?

That was the question on Thornville Village Council members minds Monday night as resident Brandon Fox asked if he could maintain a couple acres of wooded area on his 5.2-acre parcel within the village limits. Unfortunately for Fox, the village’s grass and weed ordinance does not accommodate wooded areas and stipulates that all village residential acreage should be mowed to a height of six inches at most; five or more acre lots are very uncommon within the village limits and the grass and weed ordinance makes no exceptions for them.

Fox said he purchased his property in 2012, and then built a house on it in 2013, which is set back from the road. He said he maintains all property near the road and near his home, but has allowed the rest to grow and planned to create a wooded area. He said this plan has his neighbors’ blessing. Fox said he asked the zoning inspector at the time if this was allowable and the zoning inspector said yes. “I should’ve gotten that in writing,” he said.

Fox said he planted 200 trees in April, and then in May he received notice he was in violation of the weed and grass ordinance. The Mayor’s Court magistrate granted him an extension until late September so he could appeal to council to change the ordinance. “How do I do this,” he asked council Monday night. Fox said his property butts up to a meadow, another wooded area, and neighbors, none of whom care if he creates his own woods.

“We have other wooded areas in the village. How are they handled,” said council member Mary Renner.

Fox agreed that other areas in the village have the same issue as his.

Council member Dale Brussee said he would like a weed and grass ordinance that’s useful to everyone. He said there are very few properties in the village with more than five acres.

Village Solicitor Brian Zets said a variance couldn’t really be granted in this case because Fox isn’t asking for a different length to mow his grass than what’s in the ordinance; he doesn’t want to mow that section of his property at all. “You’re not varying it, you’re saying, ‘I don’t want it,’” Zets said.

Brussee, who is also on the zoning commission, said nothing in zoning would allow the granting of a variance.

Council member Olivia Newbold said this is another example of how the village’s weed and grass ordinance is too restrictive on homeowners.

“We created a problem here,” Brussee said. He said before the Great Recession, the village had larger parcels that were intended for subdivisions. But, when the subdivisions weren’t built, these larger lots were available to anyone for purchase and keep intact. “That’s what created the headaches for the weeds and grass,” he said.

Council member Lynn Snider asked Fox why he wanted a woods in a village setting.

“That was my plan from Day One,” Fox said.

“If I had that much (property), I wouldn’t want to mow it, either,” said council president Heidi Robinson. The woods would also provide privacy.

Brussee was not in favor of sending the grass and weed ordinance back to the zoning commission for review. “It’ll never get out of zoning,” he said. “We need to make a decision now.” He wanted to be sure the ordinance would apply to all parcels five acres or larger, not just Fox’ property.

Fox said even those who bush hog their properties aren’t in compliance with the existing ordinance because a bush hog will not mow the grass down to six inches.

Fox said having to hire a lawyer over the issue would be “crazy,” but he would if he must. “Why are we being singled out?”

Zets suggested either sending the existing weed and grass ordinance back to the zoning commission or hold a special council meeting to discuss the issue.

Administrator Beth Patrick favored a special council meeting.

“Let’s cut out zoning” to speed the process, Robinson said.

Council members agreed to schedule a special meeting for Aug. 8, where council would take the weed and grass ordinance away from zoning and take it on as a council project.

In other village news:

• In his mayor’s report, Thornville Mayor Gavin Renner said he received comments expressing both support and concern from residents. “The vast majority are concerned about the negativity and personal attacks currently facilitated during public and council comments,” he said. “They don’t believe it’s appropriate behavior for council members to engage in and does not represent the people’s interests. It’s become disruptive to conducting village council business and is not an appropriate use of everyone’s time.”

Renner said the majority of residents believe council is doing a great job. “The village is fiscally solvent and well established for the future,” he said. “We are currently going through a full audit of the village. In the past we’ve performed very highly because our accounts and records are in order. We expect to perform equally high this year thanks to the efforts of our employees and Fiscal Officer Melissa Tremblay.”

Renner said Thornville is a safe community. “Thornville is relatively crime free. In the past we’ve seen juveniles breaking into vehicle for petty theft. We haven’t seen as much of that crime so far this year. We also changed our police hours to reflect that people wanted more coverage in the mornings and evenings to deal with traffic violations. We aren’t seeing the speeders that people have been reporting. Our police chief (Darrell Ball) is doing a fantastic job preserving the peace and dealing with the department’s day-to-day issues.”

• Patrick said as of July 14, the village pool collected roughly $42,000 in revenue and spent roughly $27,000 in expenses for a profit of roughly $14,500. The pool has 122 memberships and private parties nearly every night. “We’re busy, guys,” she said.

Renner said the United Methodist Church saved many of the Movies in the Park events from rain by providing shelter. “I know I can always rely on the people in the community to pitch in to help get things done,” he said. “We have a working sand volleyball court thanks to the efforts of the community.”

• Patrick said the Thorn Township Trustees made a counteroffer to the village’s request to re-integrate “Thornville” into the Thorn Township Fire Department’s title. The request results from the sale of the old Thornville-Thorn Township fire station in downtown Thornville. When the building was previously attempted to be sold, it was found that both the village and township own the building jointly, which negated the sale.

Renner previously explained that council proposed a plan to donate the village’s portion of the proceeds of the sale back to the Thorn Township Fire Department. “We are asking that the name be changed back to Thorn Twp – Thornville Fire Department as it was intended back when the old firehouse building was built,” he said.

Patrick said the village wasn’t asking the Thorn Township Fire Department to change the name on its building and equipment immediately, since that could be prohibitively expensive. The village was asking the department to use the name whenever it replaces equipment or moves to a new facility.

Monday night, Patrick said the Thorn Township Trustees instead proposed to display decals on equipment that say “Proudly serving the Village of Thornville.” She said it seemed fair. “We’ve been rehashing this forever,” Patrick said. Council members agreed, and unanimously accepted the trustees’ counter-offer.

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