Back in May, I blogged about the abandoned properties next to our shop, and about what to do about blight in our city.
In this week’s Urban County Council meetings, residents of several neighborhoods surrounding the University of Kentucky campus registered their concerns about the changes taking place in their communities.
The biggest concerns surrounded how some property owners were effectively converting single-family homes into makeshift dormitories / frat houses / flop houses to take advantage of the burgeoning student population at UK. The complaints centered not only on the creation of multi-unit apartments and the paving of lawns for parking, but also on the often-destructive behavior of the residents who move in.
Some on the council wished to impose a moratorium on these kinds of conversions while the city figures out how to accommodate growth at UK.
Last night, the council rejected the proposed moratorium, to the disappointment of many of the residents. At one point, Councilmember Lane suggested that neighbors should simply “file a complaint on property owners you feel are in violation of zoning ordinance, see if our government can apply the laws we have on the books,” to which citizen Janet Cowan responded “I know all of the numbers, Mr. Lane. I have them on speed dial.”
So, how well can the government apply the laws we have on the books? It is time to see.
The Treeds Experiment
What happened after openly blogging about the properties surrounding Lowell’s back in May?
Well, not nothing, exactly.. The 8-foot tall tree-weeds (“treeds”) I talked about then have now grown to some 16- to 18-feet tall, dwarfing the hedges that they have grown through.
The treeds now spill out over the sidewalks, making them impossible to navigate without a machete. Some pedestrians step into the street rather than navigate the mess on the sidewalks.
The grass growing next to our building has now grown to 7 1/2 feet tall (That’s me back there earlier this afternoon, risking chiggers and other man-eating varmints. I’m 6 1/2 feet tall…).
And, finally, the only drain on the lot is completely crusted over. So, during heavy rains, the lot drains straight into Mechanic Street, contributing to an occasional “Lake Mechanic”.
All of which sets the stage for what I’m calling “The Treeds Experiment”. The Treeds Experiment is a test — wherein I plan to take up Councilmember Lane’s suggestion — and learn just how long and how well our government takes to apply the laws that we already have on the books.
Simultaneous with this blog post on the afternoon before a holiday weekend, I am sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org requesting that they take remedial action upon this lot and its owners.
I will chronicle the communication (and, I anticipate, the non-communication) I get from the Code Enforcement folks and other city officials in updates to this post and on Twitter. I will not tell them that I am doing so (so that they will not artificially accelerate their actions).
But I am telling you.
Should be interesting. Look for updates here as the weeks and months progress.
Note: Many thanks to AceWeekly for chronicling the LFUCG meetings and civic discussions. Ace captured the quotes I used above.
Pat Gerhard at Third Street Stuff has recently contacted the Downtown Development Authority about the lot. We agreed a month or so ago that I would contact Code Enforcement. (Sorry for the delay, Pat.)
9/4/2009, 3:46 PM: Sent initial email to LFUCG Code Enforcement, while publishing this post.
To whom it may concern:
I am the owner of Lowell’s, an auto
repair shop at 111 Mechanic Street. There is a lot at the North corner
of North Limestone and Mechanic which appears to be abandoned, as no
maintenance has been done by the owners for over 2 years.
There are now large tree-weeds growing through the hedges
surrounding the lot, making progress on sidewalks very difficult. The
only drain on the lot is clogged, and the lot drains into Mechanic
Street, contributing to flooding during heavy rains. There is a large
clump of grass which is now approaching 8 feet in height which is
growing next to our main building. Many customers assume that the lot
is ours (since it borders our building), and a few have asked us to
clean it up.
Can you take remedial action on this property and update me on your progress in addressing these issues?
9/4/2009, 6:18 PM: Blog comment from the Lexington Streetweeper (written by an LFUCG employee) on how the Treeds Experiment is “destined to fail”.
9/4/2009, 9:28 PM: I reply that failure really isn’t possible.
9/7/2009, 10:50 AM: During torrential downpours, Lake Mechanic forms again as Mechanic Street is completely flooded, due in part to runoff from the Treeds lot with a clogged drain.
9/8/2009, 10:45 AM: I receive an email from David Jarvis, Director of Code Enforcement:
I will have Calvin Powell assign an Inspector. Thank You.
9/8/2009, 1:25 PM: I respond:
Thank you. I look forward to your updates.
9/8/2009, 2:19 PM: David Jarvis sends me another email:
Property will be cited (14 day time limit) and the limbs will be cleared back off the sidewalk as soon as we can get our contractor there.
As I read that email (and post this update) the contractors arrive with weed-eaters and loppers in hand:
Buh-bye treeds! But where will the varmints live now?
9/8/2009, 2:45 PM: Taylor Shelton and 10th District Councilmember Doug Martin post responses on the blog. Councilmember Martin mentions that Code Enforcement is particularly short-handed and suggests that citizens use LexCall 311 with details of their similar complaints.
9/8/2009, 6:31 PM: I came back to Lowell’s after being out since about 3:30 PM, and most of the debris was removed. Still a couple of piles which couldn’t fit into the contractor’s truck.
9/9/2009, 9:15 AM: Contractors cleaning up remaining debris from lot next to Lowell’s main building.
9/9/2009, 10:14 AM: The lot’s only drain is still clogged. Not sure whether that is a Code Enforcement issue or not. Sent a response to David Jarvis and Calvin Powell:
Thank you for your quick actions in getting this lot cleared.
Is the clogged drain in the lot something under the purview of Code
Enforcement, or would there be another department which handles that
5 thoughts on “The Treeds Experiment”
Rob, I really think that your experiment is destined to fail. The REAL address for code enforcement is code_enfoecement@lfucg.COM and they are in the process of moving from the first floor of the Phoenix Bldg to the fifth. They may be in a little disarray for a few days, but I think that they will respond to you message fairly quickly.
Thank you for your opinion.
The Treeds experiment really can’t fail – it is a no-lose proposition.
If the city responds in a timely fashion, we learn something. Success.
If it doesn’t, we learn something else. Success.
We will also learn something about the way in which they respond. Success.
As to the erroneous email in my initial post, that was just a typo (kind of like the one in your comment above) — I did send the email to the correct address.
It would be great if every call to LFUCG got this kind of excellent response. LFUCG is truly overwhelmed during this very difficult budget period. Our departments have seen their budgets cut more and more each year from the year before, and many departments are understaffed and short handed. Code enforcement is particularly short handed. The best thing citizens can do if they have a complaint is to call 311 with the details of their problem. Also, please be sure to follow up with 311 on a weekly basis until their situation has been resolved or until they have been contacted by LFUCG if the problem can’t be solved. If the problem is especially serious, please also e-mail your Council member.
Great experiment Rob!
I am impressed with the success of the Treeds experiment. Here is a suggestion for a further step: ask David Jarvis to explain why code enforcement was able to move so quickly on this complaint (compared to the normal process that may of us have experienced and documented), and why they are unable to routinely respond so quickly. I believe the “spotlight” may work in a specific instance, but is truly useful only when it continues to shine and illuminates the larger problem as well.