UPDATE Sept. 7, 2021: Roy Hesemann, utilities director for the city of Cedar Rapids, said due to the Labor Day holiday, the property had not yet been inspected, but was expected to be done this week. In an email, Hesemann said “City Code does not determine which plant varieties are allowed to be planted in the right of way. Staff refer to Chapter 9.20 (Trees in Streets), Chapter 21.13 (Health Regulations — Weeds) and Chapter 22 (Nuisances) when responding to complaints of code violations. Residents are encouraged to use the My CR reporting tool (www.CityofCR.com/MyCR) to submit any number of questions, concerns, or comments to the City of Cedar Rapids. Residents may also contact a department directly via telephone or email. Many of these reports and requests are made anonymously, including the report on 19th Street SE. It is then the responsibility of City staff to follow up on the submitted reports/complaints.”
CEDAR RAPIDS — Tara Farris complied when the city of Cedar Rapids sent a notice regarding a possible code violation for the sunflowers planted in front of her home.
In July, she removed the sunflowers that had provided a bright spot to the derecho-blighted area where the hurricane-strength storm downed two trees in 2020.
Now, the city has issued another notice. This time, the complaint alleges basically the same as earlier this summer: that the garden plantings are blocking the view of motorists entering 19th Street SE from the alley next to her home.
But while Farris took action to remove the sunflowers to avoid financial penalties, she is reluctant to take out the asters, roses and other plantings that are beneficial to pollinators and help beautify the neighborhood.
“I’ve put so much work into it,” she said. “I’m not ripping this out.”
Even from a low-riding car, there appears to be no obstruction of view due to the plantings, but city staff will investigate.
Farris attributes the anonymous accusation to a neighbor who frequently calls the city to make complaints against her and others living nearby.
Sandi Fowler, Deputy City Manager for the city of Cedar Rapids, said city staff investigate all complaints, regardless of how many an individual might file.
“We accept all complaints and follow the process outlined,” Fowler wrote in an email, with the following process detailed:
1) When any such nuisance complaint is received, administrative staff create a report in our database software and send a “Notice of Reported Chapter 21.13 Code Violation” to the property.
· The goal of this letter is to notify property owners (or occupants in possession or control of the land) of a reported violation, and to give them at least 7 days to either rectify the problem, contact our Nuisance Abatement Worker with any questions or concerns about the potential violation, or request a hearing within seven days.
· In this particular case, a letter was sent on August 25 to the property owner.
2) An inspection of the reported property takes place at least seven days following the initial notice letter.
· If the inspector finds the complaint to be warranted, it becomes a founded nuisance complaint subject to City code. A placard would be placed on the property, which is a final notification advising the homeowner to bring the property into compliance. The City shall then proceed with mowing, cutting and/or removing the nuisance and the property owner would be invoiced for the expense.
· If the complaint is unfounded, no further action is taken.
· In this case, an inspection has not yet occurred.
“We are committed to working with property owners to answer any questions they may have about reported violations. Residents are encouraged to contact Solid Waste Customer Service at 319-286-5897 or firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions relating to non-purposefully planted vegetation, weeds, noxious weeds, tall grass, or pile of brush complaints,” Fowler wrote. “Our goal is to be highly responsive to residents with any questions about this process. We want to ensure property owners have a good understanding of how a nuisance complaint might affect their property or what must be done to remedy a complaint against their property.”
The garden was purposefully planted, rather than “non-purposefully planted vegetation,” but Farris sees an even greater issue with the nuisance process: that a single individual could harass a neighborhood and waste city resources by filing endless frivolous complaints.
“There has to be a way to stop abusing the system,” she said. “If people call too many times, they should get blocked and the city won’t come out for any more calls.”