More Rain Means Tall Grass, More Citations

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- More rain means fast-growing grass - and Topeka inspectors are out more than ever this season to enforce weed codes.

Spring rains have lawn mowers working overtime and the grass growing at almost unmanageable speeds.

"It's growing very rapidly," city Codes Compliance Manager Patty Burkholder said. "Sometimes once a week mowing isn't enough. It can grow four to five inches in a couple of days."

It also has city code inspectors issuiung a bumper crop citations for weeds growing wild.

Since May 1, when the city starts inspecting for the season, the number is already more than half of last year's total, sitting at 1,254. All of 2012 yielded 2,325 weed violations.

Dennis Boyles has witnessed it first-hand for 16 years.

"It's amazing to me how many people just don't mow their grass. But a lot are vacant properties, possibly foreclosure or bankruptcy."

Once a property is cited with vegetation more than 12 inches high, the owner has seven days to comply, meaning getting it mowed, or city contractors mow it. They slap on a $100 penalty fee, a $140 administrative fee and another fee for actually mowing. It is $50 per hour for contractors to mow, with a half-hour minimum. Burkholder said it could total anywhere from $265 to $300 plus.

City code enforcement is cracking down on the weed issue in Topeka, but some residents say it's just not that easy keeping up, making for a very tangled situation.

The Hodgsons haven't been cited yet, but their grass is growing high.

"We have trouble keeping up with it," Mike Hodgson said. "We're both disabled and not really able to do much for pushing lawn mowers around."

The Hodgsons have their son mow their yard and hope they can afford a lawn mower soon.

"Other people I've talked to have trouble keeping up with it and they have trouble affording to have it done because it's expensive. If they get a citation on it, then that's another big bill to pay.

Hodgson said it's definitely a concern with how wet the season has been so far.

Samantha Seals rents a house, and her lawn is also becoming overrun with weeds. Her lawn mower was stolen from her backyard.

"I'm a single mom of four kids, so it's hard to get a job and make ends meet and get a new lawn mower," she said. She hasn't been cited, but said it's another bill she can't afford.

Boyles said he thinks people are having a hard time adjusting to this season because in seasons past, it's been so dry.

When he issues citations, he said the attitude has changed about city inspectors.

"I think people realize we're doing a job and their grass needs to be cut."

The city says cutting the grass comes down to safety.

"I think a lot of it is a health issue as far as harborage for mice, snakes and other types of varmints."

The city ordinance on weeds reads:

"The existence of excessive accumulations of untended growth of weeds, grasses, undergrowth and uncultivated plants which threatens or endangers the public health, safety or welfare or may reasonably pose a fire hazard, cause disease, harbor vermin and insects, or which adversely affects and impairs the economic welfare of the adjacent property is hereby prohibited. Weeds, grass, undergrowth and uncultivated plants in excess of 12 inches in height will be presumed to be a nuisance."

The ordinance was put into place in 1996, and recent updates were added in 2004.

Burkholder said there is an 80 percent compliance rate among those who have been cited.

Any property owner who disagrees with a citation can bring it forth in a hearing at the Cyrus K. Holliday building at 620 SE Madison Street.

Shawnee County has a limit of 18 inches, while in Douglas and Johnson Counties, it's 8 inches.


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