Rob Morris tries Treeds Experiment to End Blight

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The Treeds Experiment
By Rob Morris

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?

Nothing.

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 code_enforcement@lfucg.com 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?

  Thank you,
  Rob Morris

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.

  Rob

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, 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 drainage issue?

  Thanks,

  Rob



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