AUGUSTA — City councilors expressed both support Thursday for the concept of a proposed property maintenance ordinance, but also concern about the potential effect of its details.

The controversial proposal was back before councilors for review after officials scaled back some provisions that had drawn sharp criticism, including rules about keeping properties free of weeds.

The proposed ordinance would require residents, businesses and other landowners in the city to keep their properties from falling into disrepair or becoming unsafe or unsightly.

Ward 4 Councilor Anna Blodgett, who was chairwoman of the committee that drafted the proposal, said it is a response to residents and officials seeing properties allowed to deteriorate and become an eyesore or even nuisance to neighbors, but not being able to do much about it.

“I’ve lived in this city 47 years, and I know ugly when I see it,” Blodgett said. “I know violations when I see it. When it’s affecting the value of a neighbor’s property, we, as a council, have to do something about it. We have an ordinance here that puts in some teeth.”

The proposed ordinance was written primarily in response to residents’ complaints in recent years about some properties being allowed to deteriorate and neither the city nor neighbors having recourse to do anything about property owners who don’t do proper maintenance.

Advertisement

However, some residents and councilors expressed concern last year soon after the ordinance was proposed that it went too far, could take away private property rights and could prevent property owners from keeping any unregistered, uninspected motor vehicles on their properties.

The ordinance probably will face a first reading, of two required readings for approval, at next Thursday’s council business meeting.

At-Large Councilor Cecil Munson had questions Thursday about how far the city would go in enforcing rules in the proposal that would ban “rodent harborage.”

“I have field mice” in a field nearby his home, Munson said. “Am I going to have to go out there and get rid of every mouse?”

Matt Nazar, the city’s development director, said the intent of those provisions was to give the city the ability to require landowners with rodent infestations on their properties to do something about it, not to eliminate every mouse in the city.

Mayor David Rollins suggested changing the ordinance language to specify it would apply to infestations, or an abundance, of rodents.

Advertisement

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said the ordinance was written with the assistance of the city’s code enforcement officers and is meant to give them the tools to go after the city’s most poorly maintained properties. She said city code enforcement wouldn’t be going after homes that were just a bit behind on maintenance or had lawns that had grown slightly higher than the ordinance would allow.

She said one of the city’s code officers “told us this gave him the tools he needed to deal with the worst problems. I don’t expect anyone to be on the ground measuring people’s lawns.”

One change made since the first proposal alters regulations on weeds. Previously they would have applied to the entire city; now they would apply only to the Maine Department of Transportation-defined urban compact area of Augusta. Nazar said that area is generally the built-up part of Augusta, including most of the western part of the city.

The weeds rules would require property owners within the urban compact area to keep their properties free of weeds or plant growth in excess of 10 inches. The ordinance proposal defines weeds as all grasses, annual plants and vegetation other than trees, shrubs, cultivated flowers and gardens. Exceptions to that would be made to allow hayfields and pastures “where the owner demonstrates that the affected area is actively managed.” And open lawn or field on a lot bigger than 1 1/2 acres would be allowed to grow back into forest if it is are actively managed.

At-Large Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau, stating he would not want to be required to mow a field on his property, asked what “actively managed” means.

Nazar said “actively managed” in the ordinance means a conscious effort by the landowner is being made to allow a former field to grow into forest.

Advertisement

“There is no expectation in here that a field has to remain a field,” he said. “If you’re not going to bush-hog it, it’s going to become forest again. That’s OK.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.