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City committee wants Darlington home owners to tidy up
overgrown grass
This is not a picture of a home in Darlington. It is just a stock photo.

DARLINGTON – At the Aug. 30, 2019 Policies, Proceedures and Ordinance Committee meeting of the City of Darlington, several opinions were offered regarding run down conditions of yards and homes in the city.

The first item taken up by the committee is an ordinance amending Chapter 13 of the city’s municipal code relating to weed and grass control. This item has come up in two previous meetings.

The newly amended ordinance reads as follows:

ORDINANCE AMENDING CHAPTER 13 OF THE MUNICIPAL CODE

OF THE CITY OF DARLINGTON RELATING TO WEED AND GRASS CONTROL

The Common Council of the City of Darlington do ordain as follows:

Section 1: Section 13.045 is hereby created to read as follows:

(1) PUBLIC NUISANCE DECLARED. The common council finds that lawns, grasses, and noxious weeds on non-agricultural lots or parcels of land, as classified under the city's municipal zoning code Chapter 9, within the city of Darlington, which exceed eight inches in length, adversely affect the public health and safety in that they tend to emit pollen and other discomforting bits of plants, constitute a fire hazard and safety hazard in that debris can be hidden in the grass, interferes with the public convenience, and adversely affects property values of other land within the city. For that reason, any non-agricultural or non-woodland lawn, grass or weed on a lot or other parcel of land which exceeds eight inches in length is declared to be a public nuisance.

(2) MOWING REQUIRED. Every property owner shall mow, or cause to be mowed, all grasses or weeds growing on the owners property and abutting parkway within the City on land not solely used for agricultural or woodland purposes to a height not to exceed 8 inches.

(3) GRASS CLIPPINGS BLOWN INTO STREET PROHIBITED. No person shall permit grass clippings from lawn mowing and other sources to be blown into or remain upon sidewalks, street pavement, gutters of any public street or upon any public property or upon any property of another, without the express permission of the owner or occupant thereof.

(4) ENFORCEMENT. The Weed Commissioner or other designee of the City shall enforce the requirements of this subsection, and if any person is found to be in violation of any of the provisions of this subsection, the Weed Commissioner or other designee of the City, shall after five days' written notice to the owner of the premises, which notice shall only be sent once per year, cause the grass and weeds on the premises to be mowed. Subsequent violations will be addressed by the City without notice. The Weed Commissioner or other designee of the City shall report the cost of mowing the grass and weeds to the City Clerk/Treasurer including administrative, labor, overhead, bookkeeping, mileage, and incidentals, and the City shall recover such costs by charging the property owner and shall add any unpaid amounts to the property owner's property tax bill as a special tax.

(5) NO LIMITATION ON OTHER ENFORCEMENT. Action by the Weed Commissioner or other designee of the City under this subsection shall be in addition to the prosecution and enforcement authority granted in the Municipal Code or by state law, and shall not bar any prosecution for violations of ordinances or state law or any other lawful remedy; nor shall prosecution or other legal action be a bar against action under this subsection.

(6) CONFLICTS WITH OTHER CODE PROVISIONS. In the event of any conflict between this Subsection and any other provisions of this Municipal Code, this Subsection shall control.

Discussion began with committee chair John Sonsalla. Calling on Mayor David Breunig to speak.

Breunig said, “I will not allow ‘#3 – grass clippings blown into the street prohibited’ to be acted on at a regular council meeting. I’ll just remove it.”

Committee member Cindy Corley said, “I disagree.”

Committee member Steve Pickett said, “I think we need to have that in the ordinance. If it’s creating a problem and clippings are going into the storm sewer. I think we may have to do it. I would prefer not to.”

Corley said, “If you look at other ordinances in other city’s, they have this in theirs. It’s not only a traffic danger, but there’s the water and sewer issue.”

City Attorney Bill McDaniel said, “I think the motivation behind it is to prevent the clippings from being washed into storm sewers or potentially clogging storm sewers. Plus you have phosphorus going into the river. You’d like to see it done voluntarily.”

Suzi Osterday said, “I think it’s dangerous. I’ve seen what it can do to motorcycles and maybe even ATV’s. If we don’t put it in the ordinance can we suggest that people don’t blow clippings in the street?”

Sonsalla said, “After driving around in the city and I saw clippings, I thought it looks bad, it’s unsightly and then there’s the storm sewer thing.”

Pickett added, “I saw some streets that looked green. I don’t know if residents don’t think about blowing it the other way or if they’re doing it intentionally to get it off their yard. In any event I don’t think they should be doing it and I’d rather we ask them not to do it. Otherwise we’ll have squad cars driving around to see who cut their grass the right way.”

Corley made the motion to approve the amended ordinance and Sonsalla seconded it. Approved. This will go to full city council for final approval.

Pickett said, “I like how it’s worded regarding non-agriculture and non-woodland lots.” (meaning agriculture land or wooded lots in the city would not be affected by the ordinance)

Building Regulations

The second item up for discussion was regarding ordinance changes to Chapter 10, Subchapter II relating to minimum standards for residential rental properties.

“A question was asked, does a person need a permit to own a rental unit,” began Sonsalla, “the answer is no.”

City of Darlington Clerk-Treasurer, Phil Risseeuw said, “In the initial ordinance you had ‘a rental unit needed a permit’ in there, but then you took it out.”

This was done during a meeting that was attended by several of the city’s rental unit landlords.

Dave Roelli asked, “Is that a road you don’t want to go down?”

Sonsalla answered with a question, “I’d like to know how we would fund it? If we have inspections of rental units, we would need to hire an inspector.”

Dan O’Brien asked, “Why can’t the landlord’s pay for it?”

Discussion turned to the bad condition many of the houses that the multiple landlords own.

O’Brien went on, “I will have two s***holes on either side of me. No one enforces ordinances to make them take care of these houses or bring them up to code. As a consequence my property value is going down. I’m getting tired of it.”

Osterday said, “I agree with that too. If you have a nice house and you keep it up and the neighbors don’t, then you’re screwed. Especially when you try to sell it.”

Sonsalla said, “I’m totally in agreement with that. That’s why we did that whole repair thing and we had the meeting room full of the landlords …”

Osterday said, “Those landlords don’t have to live next to them. They all live in nice houses in nice neighborhoods.”

Sonsalla said, “I’m all for making everybody’s house look better. It’s better for the neighborhoods and for the city. The question is enforcement. You can have these ordinances, but if you don’t enforce them, it doesn’t matter.”

Roelli said, “I think the city has to do something. They have to find money or budget money and make something happen. The rental businesses are not going to go away, if anything there will be more of them if we let them run the way they are. The town will start to look crappy and we don’t want that reputation. The city needs to get on track to have ordinances (and enforce them), have inspections and have a way to pay for them.”

Breunig asked, “How many rental units are in the city?”

The Republican Journal reached out to city employee Mary Polkingham to find out that number and she responded that of the 500 house in Darlington - 100 of them are rental houses.

The committee and gallery present, hashed out a way to pay for the inspections and how other cities do this. Other discussion included number of occupants in each rental unit. City of Darlington Jason King said that it is difficult to enforce number of occupants in a rental house.

Osterday said, “You shouldn’t be able to buy a house (for rental use), if you can’t afford to fix it up.”

Pickett said, “I think we need to find out, how many rental units there are and how much it’s going to cost us for a certified inspector. Then we can get it in the budget for next year. Then we’ll start the first of the year.” Picket also stated this is not law enforcements job to enforce these ordinances.

Joe Boll passed around pictures to the committee of ‘sad’ looking houses in the city. Boll said, “It’s not only renters, although they are the main problem, it’s homeowners also.”

A motion by Pickett to find out what this will cost to hire a full or three-quarter time certified building inspector to inspect houses that are in bad shape and to find out how many rental houses are in the city and to include this in the 2020 budget. Seconded by Sonsalla. Approved.

Boll commented, “We’re all here because we want the City of Darlington to look nice. First impressions mean everything. We care, that’s why we’re here. We want to be proud of our city and things are getting out of hand.”

            Sfter the subject was researched - the discussion and motion proved to be futile as the State of Wisconsin approved 2017 Wisconsin Act 317, which prohibits cities, villages, towns, and counties from enacting ordinances that require a rental property or