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Pretty flowers on terraces also raise thorny issues

City may consider new rules to root out potential problems

Sept. 4, 2008

Concerns have sprouted over the kinds of plants that can take root on the city’s terraces.

Questions have been raised because some St. Francis residents have planted tall plants and flowers on terraces, causing visibility issues for drivers. Others have asked to plant flora that raise other prickly issues.

At this point, St. Francis officials don’t have all the answers.

The public’s interests

Mayor Al Richards brought up the issue during an Aug. 19 meeting after receiving several phone calls from people asking how officials handle plantings on city terraces — the sections of public land between streets and sidewalks.

In the past, such rules were based on common sense by city officials, and decisions varied depending on the situation, Richards said. But now, he feels rules need to be spelled out.

There have been some recent examples of borderline ideas.

City Engineer Melinda Dejewski said an unidentified resident called her office asking for permission to plant a rose bush on a terrace. Dejewski wasn’t too keen on that idea because of the potential hazard the thorny plants would pose to a pedestrian or bicyclist who might fall onto it from an adjacent sidewalk. City workers also could be injured in the course of their duties, she added.

Another resident asked to plant hostas around a tree, said Dejewski, another idea she discouraged.

“There is an area in the city where someone has planted their entire terrace full of flowers,” she said.

There are no rules

The city has had to deal with such issues knowing that specific rules are either vague or nonexistent.

In the case of the terrace full of flowers, Dejewski sought an assurance that the plants would not exceed 12 inches in height — a restriction borrowed from another city ordinance.

“We do have an ordinance saying grass cannot exceed 12 inches, so we’ve been applying that standard to flowers,” she said. “But we don’t have a standard for flowers or plants.”

Because there is no municipal law in place, City Attorney Michele Ford said officials technically do not have the authority to tell residents how tall their flowers should be unless it constitutes a nuisance.

Police Chief Brian Kaebisch said he believes overgrown plants and flowers in some areas are a nuisance, creating safety concerns for children playing in the area as well as pedestrians on the sidewalk. Visibility is an issue.

“It’s unique compared to other people planting small things in their parcel around trees,” he said.

Growing an ordinance

The rules won’t be easy to write.

“It’s almost a situation where it’s impossible to create a perfect ordinance,” said 2nd District Alderman Ted Jarosh.

Another uncertainty in the matter was who is responsible for enforcing “nuisance planting.”

Ford said the responsibility would fall on the shoulders of her and City Building Inspector Craig Vretenar. But Vretenar said the nuisance ordinance doesn’t specify who enforces such matters.

Common Council President Debbie Fliss requested that Ford research the various issues and report back to the Common Council.

Not seeing the problem

Not everyone agrees there even is a problem.

Dolores Morton, who lives in the 4400 block of South New York Avenue and has resided in the city for 51 years, said she has not noticed any terraces in particular that are overgrown, causing visibility issues.

Anne Hackl, a resident in the 2800 block of East Armour Avenue, said she has not seen any jungle-like plants growing along city terraces either, and she has resided in the city for 54 years.

“Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with (plantings),” she said.

Dejewski stressed that the city doesn’t want to seem too restrictive as it deals with legitimate concerns.

“The city of St. Francis is not against flowers,” Dejewski said.

Chantel Balzell can be reached at (262) 446-6602.

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