Strip clip: City writes new mowing law

In addition to Charlottesville's you-must-shovel-it rule, the city is turning more maintenance over to residents.

A new ordinance shifts responsibility for mowing certain strips of grass in the public right-of-way from the city to the abutting property owners. The ordinance, approved February 17, will save about $40,000 a year, estimates Parks and Grounds manager Pat Plocek.

"It was very costly," says Plocek. "We'd go to the site, take 10 to 15 minutes to unload, cut– then load everything back up and go to the next one."

Most city residents already cut those typically two- and three-foot-wide bits in the public right of way, but somehow, 175 made it onto a list for the city to mow. "With the budget tight, we didn't think it was fair for taxpayers to pay for those who wouldn't," says Plocek.

According to the city attorney's office, the rights of way are deeded to neither the city nor the abutting property owner. Charlottesville already has a law on the books that makes landowners responsible for keeping snow shoveled from sidewalks fronting their property.

City Council candidate Ann Reinicke considers the new grass ordinance a good idea. What bugged her, though, was that City Council was ready to approve the new ordinance January 5 without notifying the 175 property owners and occupants who would now be responsible for cutting those little strips of grass.

"The problem is the attitude some in Council have that we don't have to tell people," complains Reinicke.

Councilor Rob Schilling agrees. "Sometimes there's an attitude that we'll do this and let people find out about it later."

So letters went out. Plocek says he received two calls and no complaints.

And the new ordinance allows an appeals process if an owner has a physical inability to mow, or if the location makes it too dangerous.

Some, like snow removal critic Adrian Pols, see this as another way the city is trying to offload its municipal responsibilities. He calls it "involuntary servitude."

But others, like Louis Schultz, embrace the idea. "I'll be glad to have the city not mowing," he says. Schultz, who frequently spars with the city about the definition of weeds and compost, says the city has cut down shrubs on his property.

Kurt Krobeth was on the list of 175, and he's not sure why. "My property comes to the street, and I always mow it," he says.

But some owners don't mow the right-of-way, even when the strip looks like it's part of their yard, says Plocek.

Come growing season, those owners can be cited if they don't keep the rights-of-way mowed. But if it's any consolation, the city itself doesn't always keep its vacant lots as neatly groomed as it would like.

"We've received calls," Plocek admits, "that say we're close to being cited."

The grass may lie in the public right of way, but it's now the property owner's job to cut it.