The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

December 15, 2013

Grass a growing concern for city leaders

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

HERMITAGE — It’s an issue they have brought up and dropped several times over the years, made difficult because of the city’s diverse residential uses - farms, vacant lots, small and large lots - and a new proposal has not found any consensus.

City ordinance requires that vegetation on lots that contain structures be kept shorter that 8 inches. When the grass grows too tall, and the owner refuses to cut it, officials will have city workers cut it or hire someone else to do it, then bill the property owner and post a lien if the bill is not paid.

The latest discussion revolves around lots where a structure has been torn down, often through a city enforcement action.

An amendment to the grass ordinance that commissioners could introduce Wednesday would require that grass still be cut after the building is torn down.

Commissioner Duane J. Piccirilli said he doesn’t want a situation where the city has cut the grass on a vacant lot for years, and then stops because the structure has been demolished.

Neighbors have an expectation that the city will continue to maintain the lot, said Commissioner William J. Moder III.

Commissioner Rita L. Ferringer said she had problems with the proposal. The continuing maintenance of a vacant lot could be a heavy burden for property owners, some of whom do not live in the area, or the city, she said. She said she fears the city could end up cutting the grass on certain lots forever.

A real estate agent, Ferringer said she knows of several properties that are large and would require a lot of time and effort to maintain.

While Ferringer understands the intent, she said she believes it could become impractical.

“I don’t think this addresses everything that’s out there,” she said.

“Live next door to one of these lots,” Piccirilli responded, but later said he understands her point.

City solicitor Thomas W. Kuster said the city can’t differentiate between city and country lots in an ordinance, unless population density is used as a benchmark.

Farm parcels would be exempt from the rule, as they are now.

The ordinance only would impact parcels from which structures are removed after the enactment of the ordinance. Existing parcels that are the subject of current complaints would not be addressed.

City Manager Gary P. Hinkson said the city does not order the demolition of many structures, but acknowledged that, over time, it could become a management issue to get the grass cut on a lot of parcels..

“Practically speaking, that has to be enforced,” he said.

Commissioners also discussed addressing grass height through zoning and a city policy, but did not settle on an approach.

“It’s a good start,” Piccirilli said of the ordinance proposal.

If the ordinance is introduced, a public hearing likely would be set for January.