In an effort to keep overgrown weeds from becoming an eyesore, particularly outside vacant or foreclosed properties, village officials said recently that they are willing to mow any unsightly growth themselves. But the service comes with a $250 charge to the property owner and is meant to be a last resort.
Council members unanimously approved an amendment Sept. 14 to add more teeth to existing regulations when it comes to lawn maintenance. “Noxious weeds” have been prohibited for some time, and the grass in parkways and lawns must be kept trim. What’s new is the municipality’s ability to hit property owners with a $250 lien if the public works department has to cut the grass. Also, what was a 10-day window for property owners to comply with an order to remove the nuisance has been reduced to seven days.
“It should be a process that runs very, very smooth,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said of the measure.
Commissioner Marty Tellalian voiced support for additional regulations that would prohibit trees and other plantings from encroaching on property lines.
Compared with other west suburban communities, Forest Park has been spared the glut of property foreclosures that has ravaged residential neighborhoods. However, the housing crisis has struck here.
On the 900 block of Lathrop is a single-family home left vacant by the economic meltdown. Neighbors occasionally run their mowers over the front lawn and parkway area, but in the rear of the property the vegetation has become jungle-like.
Under the new rules, the Department of Public Health and Safety will field complaints and an inspection will be done within one business day. If the grass is more than 10-inches in height, or weeds have taken over, a seven-day notice is sent to the property owner’s address and posted on the front and back doors of the property.
On the eighth day, inspectors will revisit the property. If the problem still exists, public works employees will be asked to take care of it. Grass-cutting orders will also be given priority status, according to a copy of the village’s new internal policy.
Bob Teets, interim director of the Department of Public Health and Safety, said that typically banks and other institutions have been responsive to municipal requests. Generally speaking, said Teets, the overall problem is minimal.
“It’s the back yards we sometimes don’t see,” Teets said of his property inspectors.
Potentially, village officials could find themselves having to interpret the rules. Some homeowners in town don’t subscribe to the idea that a perfectly manicured lawn is the most attractive.
Mark Rogovin and his wife, Michelle Melin-Rogovin, have an extensive garden in their back yard. Under the local ordinance, cultivated flowers and gardens cannot receive a mandated mowing. The couple’s front lawn, however, may be up for debate. A variety of wispy and hearty plants have flourished in front of their home on the 900 block of Dunlop – one block west of the vacant home on Lathrop. With a bit of a sheepish grin, Rogovin acknowledged his lawn does not resemble those of his neighbors, but he’s not interested in forcing the soil to produce something that doesn’t naturally occur.
The couple agreed that aesthetics should not be a priority of local government. They recalled a June 15 shooting just north of their home in which a Maywood teen was killed.
“I would be uncomfortable having my home next to a home that looks like a foreclosed home,” Melin-Rogovin said. “It’s a security issue. To the extent this is about security and safety, that makes sense. How these laws are implemented, we’ll have to see.”
Residents who choose to cultivate such alternative lawns won’t necessarily be targeted by the tougher ordinance, said Teets. So long as neighbors don’t have a problem with it, he’d prefer not to get involved.
“All flowers look like weeds to me, unless it’s a dozen roses in a box,” Teets said.