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Mowing quandary: Code enforcement to contact non-compliant residents

By DAVID TEWES
Sept. 11, 2010 at 4:11 a.m.

Daniel Lopez demonstrates how difficult it would be for him to mow the ditch behind his property at 515 Bramble Bush Lane. Injuries prevent him from operating a mower at an angle, but the city of Victoria demands he cut the grass.

Mowing enforcement updateCity code enforcement officers will begin this week enforcing a 41-year-old ordinance requiring property owners to mow city rights of way next to their property.

Residents will be told to mow the city property or the city will hire a contractor to do the work.

The property owners will be billed. If they don't pay the bill, a lien will be placed against their property.

Daniel Lopez wouldn't mind complying with a city request to mow the city-owned Guy Grant Road ditch behind his house.

But the Victoria resident said there's just one problem. He was injured during a fall after serving 26 years in the military and he's physically not capable of mowing the city ditch.

"Is it really right they can force us to cut their property?" asked Lopez, 61, who lives at 515 Bramble Bush Lane. "How can the city make an ordinance to make us do what we're already paying taxes for them to do?"

Jared Mayfield, the city's planning manager, said the city council passed an ordinance in 1969 making property owners responsible for the rights of way in front of or behind their houses.

It became an issue this year when the city cut back on mowing city drainage ditches to help make up for a drop in sales tax income. The reduced mowing schedule coincided with heavy summer rains that caused an increase in the growth of grass and weeds, which sparked complaints from residents.

The city council called on staff to enforce the 1969 ordinance. That included a shift in policy to stop city crews from mowing some of the deeper ditches it had taken on to help residents.

Lopez made multiple calls to people with the city staff, city council and Keep Victoria Beautiful without success, he said. Because he's disabled, he can only work a few hours a day and can't afford to hire someone to mow the ditch, he said.

Council Member Tom Halepaska understands there may be people too sick or too elderly to mow the rights of way. The city needs to work on a solution for those people, he said.

"We're not trying to be heavy-handed about this," he said. "We're just trying to keep the city looking nice."

That means calling on the residents to help, he said.

Some were already doing that because they care about how the property around their homes appears, he said. Others weren't.

Most of the problem areas are where the backyards face thoroughfares, Mayfield said. Fences were erected at the property line, leaving a grassy area between the fence and the edge of the road.

Many of those fences have no gates, making it difficult for the property owners to get to the rights of way.

Some of the problem areas include John Stockbauer Drive, Airline Road, Ben Jordan Street, Guy Grant Road, Mallette Drive and Mockingbird Lane.

"Some of these addresses have grass three or four feet tall," Mayfield said.

The city mailed about 400 letters in August to people whose property backs up to thoroughfares to notify them they are responsible for the right of way.

All but about 60 complied and they were notified again by letter. Code enforcement will begin working on those cases this week, telling them to mow or the city will and the property owner will be charged.

Those who don't pay the charge will have a lien placed against their property.

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