Nuisance ordinance gains approval

Published 8:25 am Monday, August 19, 2013

GATESVILLE – Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Apparently, so is the height of the grass in your neighbor’s yard.

At their meeting here last week, the Gates County Board of Commissioners approved a nuisance ordinance, basically a document that controls the growth of weeds, grass or noxious growth, to a height of 12 inches or more, within 100 feet of any residential or nonresidential structure.

Prior to approving the ordinance, the commissioners held a public hearing, one that led to differing opinions on the issue at hand.

Thomas Hill of Daniels Road said he felt he was signaled out for the height of the grass in his yard. He urged the commissioners to, “tread lightly on this issue; keep it out of the leadership of the Sheriff’s Office. Less government is the way to go.”

Hill said since he moved to Gates County he has experienced numerous cases of vandalism to his property as well as a gunshot to his residence.

“I’ve had four-wheelers in my driveway cutting doughnuts; there are countless police reports on this, but nothing has been done,” Hill said, adding that it was perhaps in retaliation for him seeking (and was defeated) a commissioner’s seat last year, saying he was “challenging the good old boy system.”

“I spoke to Sheriff (Ed) Webb about it, but nothing was done. I took it to court where I won a civil no-contact order,” Hill continued. “To trust the leadership of the Sheriff’s Office with this nuisance ordinance, I have a problem with that. My faith in the leadership has been shook.”

He recommended to not use county officials to handle frivolous complaints.

“I’ve had members of the Planning Board come to my house, asking me to mow my grass,” Hill stated.

Doug Bailey said he briefly reviewed the ordinance, and questioned why were farm properties excluded.

“Why is that, if it’s within 100 feet of a residential property,” Bailey said.

Bailey said he understood the need for grass for livestock to graze or to bail hay, but pointed out what he read in the ordinance concerning “public nuisance.”

“If that applies for everyone else, why not for a farm,” Bailey inquired. “If it affects a residential area, there should be some language in this ordinance that covers that.”

Two county citizens – George Walters and Carolyn Riddick – voiced their concerns with another type of nuisance – loud noises. Walters complained of a group from Virginia that comes down to race “nitro cars” and fire high powered weapons near his home.

“The Sheriff’s Office comes and talks to them and then the deputies leave and they’re right back at it,” Walters. “These guys feel like there are no laws here; they do what they want to do. It’s just a matter of time before somebody gets shot.”

Riddick said she experiences the same type of loud noise from those firing weapons and from “mud boggers.”

Sheriff Webb addressed both types of nuisance.

“There’s no law in Gates County that prevents someone from discharging a firearm,” he said. “We need something on the books in order to enforce that. We can charge them if they repeatedly discharge a weapon after 11 p.m.”

Webb then took issue with Hill’s assessment of his leadership.

“We are non-partisan all the time; we treat people the same across the county,” Webb stressed. “We can only enforce the laws that are valid; we don’t bend the laws for who we choose. You came in here and talked about me, that’s fine because I know and everybody knows that you don’t care for me. Nobody wants to have someone come tell them to cut their grass. But if that’s what the commissioners want us to do through this ordinance, then we’re bound by law to do our best to enforce them.”

After exiting the public hearing, the commissioners voiced their opinions of the proposed ordinance.

“This is an appearance issue, a health issue,” said Commissioner Johnny Hora. “We heard about excluding or not excluding farms from this ordinance. I understand how farms operate, but if a farmer has an old home on their property being used for storage and they’ve let the grass and weeds grow up around it and it’s within 100 feet of residential property, that area needs to be maintained.”

“I would suggest we consult with the Extension Department or someone who is an expert about what details a farm before we put in any types of exclusions in this ordinance,” said Commissioner Linda Hofler.

“I know there are a lot of state laws that excludes farms from local ordinances,” noted Commissioner Kenneth Jernigan. “I’ve been on this board for eight years and this type of ordinance has been previously discussed. I keep my grass cut; I like my neighbor to keep his grass cut. Whatever we decide to do, keep it within the rules and regulations of the law.”

“The wording of this ordinance is fine for rural Gates County; this wording does not need to be changed,” Commissioner Jack Owens stated.

“I’m not opposed moving forward with this ordinance if that’s the pleasure of the board,” said Commission Chairman Henry Jordan.

Owens motioned to approve the ordinance as written. Hofler offered a second and it was approved without objection.

Additionally, the newly approved ordinance prevents the accumulation of animal or vegetable matter that is offensive by virtue of odors or vapors or which is inhabited by rats, mice, snakes or vermin of any kind which is or may be dangerous or prejudicial to the public health. It also regulates the accumulation of solid waste or scrap materials; the accumulation of stagnant water which causes or threatens to cause mosquito inhabitation; and any condition detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare or which violates the rules and regulations of the Gates County Health Department.

Those found in violation can personally remove or have removed the offensive material. Property owners can ask the county to remove the material that is deemed a public nuisance and pay for that service within 30 days.

There are civil penalties for those refusing to abide by the ordinance. The first violation carries a $50 penalty. Subsequent violations will incur a $100 penalty.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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