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Garden boxes spared
Common Council refers matter to Plan Commission
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This garden box at the Jason and Peggy Miles residence will produce carrots and watermelon this summer. The Mileses were asked to move the garden box by the City, which cited an ordinance regarding landscaping. Jason Miles argued Monday night the ordinance is too vague. The Council agreed and approved referring the ordinance to the Citys Plan Commission for possible revisions. - photo by Robert Callahan photo

A Fennimore ordinance concerning landscaping will be reviewed by the City’s Plan Commission after action taken by the Fennimore Common Council during its semi-monthly meeting on Monday night, June 8.

The Council’s unanimous vote followed a sometimes spirited discussion of the fate of two garden boxes at the Jason and Peggy Miles residence on 10th Street.

The Mileses last month received a letter from City Clerk/Treasurer Margaret Sprague informing them two garden boxes placed in public property on the west side of their home were in violation of City ordinance. Public property is defined in most instances as 12 feet behind the curb.

“City ordinance requires that developed areas have a landscaped yard along all streets abutting the property,” the letter stated. “Gardening does not meet that requirement.”

Chapter 19 of the City’s zoning code states: “8.08 Landscaping: In all districts except the General Commercial District, all developed areas shall have a landscaped yard along all streets abutting the property. The yard shall extend along the entire frontage with the exception of driveways and shall be kept free of all structures, storage and off-street parking.”

The garden boxes have been in place for over three years, Jason told the Council.

“My son came home three years ago from kindergarten and they taught him all about gardens and gardening and stuff like that,” he said. “If anybody has been by my house, on the west side we put two little plots, above ground, not anchored, nothing.”

Two years ago the garden boxes were home to sunflowers, which impeded the view of traffic traveling on Madison Street. The sunflowers were removed. The garden boxes remained, as the Miles were not told of an ordinance violation.

“Now they have to be removed,” Jason said. “I don’t see why. I don’t think it is fair.”

Jason provided the Council with a petition that began Sunday and had garnered 177 electronic signatures as of Monday evening’s meeting.

Tomato plants are grown in the northern-most garden, while the southern garden is home to carrots and watermelons.

“If anybody needed to do anything in that area I wouldn’t stop them,” Jason said. “I never have. I would be more than happy to help. I don’t think it is fair that my children need to get rid of their gardens.

“What is the problem? There is negative effect from it whatsoever.”

“There is if something has to be done through there,” Mayor Charles Stenner answered. “If we have to tear up somebody’s flowers and everything, or whatever, we would have to tear them up.

“But if you start putting down structure, which it is, even though you can tear it up easily, it is a still a structure.”

One of a dozen people that attended the Council meeting asked why the Miles were the only family in Fennimore to receive a letter concerning such an ordinance violation.

“You really, honestly, think that Miles are the only one that has that situation,” she asked. “Why are they the only ones that got a letter?

“I own a house that a City employee used to own and there is maybe four feet off of two City streets and there is a great big circle that they put landscape in and it is bordered by rock.”

“Because the ordinance says you have to landscape it,” Sprague answered.

“But there is nothing in [the ordinance] determining what landscaping is,” Jason said.

“I would agree with that,” Sprague said.

“I don’t believe that it is fair that you get the right to tell everybody or decide what landscaping is,” Jason said.

Aldperson Jessie Strack said the Miles are not alone.

“I have been driving around town looking at this stuff,” she said. “I just noticed we have this in other spots throughout this City, lots of other spots. I bet tonight I could come up with 20.”

Stenner asked Jason why he did not put the garden boxes closer to his home, out of public property.

“Really, there wasn’t that much thought to it,” he answered. “This was for my children, that is all it was for. My kids.”

Stenner told those in attendance City personnel often advises persons to contact the City to ask if potential actions concerning their property is permissible.

In response, Jason alleged bullying on the City’s part.

“We have lived at 1280 10th Street for 10 years,” he said. “I have got a letter of insignificant nature like this every single year. I have been dealing with this, I call ignorance, for 10 years. I believe that I am getting picked on and bullied because I am on [Sprague’s] ride to work. That’s why.”

Strack asked when the ordinance concerning landscaping was last updated. Sprague believes the language is original to the 1970s.

“Maybe the Plan Commission should take a look at that and see what they might want to modify,” Sprague said.

“I think there needs to be some definition,” alderperson Ryan Boebel said.

Jason agreed.

“I am 100 percent for rules, going by the rules,” he said. “But I got this letter in the mail this can’t be there. Then when I got the actual City ordinance and there was nothing in there saying it can’t be there, then I was upset.”

Council President David Streif said he hopes the Plan Commission utilizes common sense in reviewing the ordinance.

“I don’t want to see us open up a can of worms and remove everything,” he said.

Following the vote to refer the matter to the Plan Commission, the Council was asked the fate of the garden boxes in the interim. The Council unanimously voted to allow the garden boxes to remain in their present location.

“You get a stay of execution,” alderperson Joe McBee said.

“Keep growing carrots, young man,” alderperson Gerald Bollant said.

“Come August, we will have some watermelon,” Streif said.

In other action, the Council:

• approved an application for a fireworks permit by Steve Lendosky on behalf of the Pros vs. Joes softball game on July 28. Each time a “Pro” or “Joe” hits a home run, fireworks will light up the sky.

• approved purchasing Fennimore Area Chamber of Commerce Chicken Barbecue tickets for City employees. Two tickets will be allotted for each full-time employee and one ticket for each part-time employee.

• approved hiring Matthew Duff, Trent Napp, Bailey Sherman and Aaron Swan to serve as lifeguards at the Fennimore Community Pool during the 2015 season.