Dear Readers – Thank you very much for your support, but please STOP sending mean, nasty, or hurtful notes to the City of Warrenville over the issue of the post I wrote on this garden I built for the community. I am interested in making a peaceful statement and asked for peaceful comments. I want to work with the city in the future to help beautify and encourage gardens like this one; not attack the city in a way that discourages cooperation!
Instead of sending harsh emails to the city, can you please help me protest peacefully by listing ideas and comments on the blog posts? Thanks very much!
I want to clarify a few things so you all can understand what has happened regarding this issue over the last 48 hours since the original post was put up. The City of Warrenville has issued a statement and there was a radio interview. In some things I was wrong and I want to clarify the story so you might understand the purpose of bringing this into the public light.
What I Hope To Accomplish and Why
Many of you want to know what I hope to accomplish by making my concerns about this garden issue with the city public.
#1 – AWARENESS.
I’d like more people in my city and around the world to be made aware of how public and private gardens built on easement and right of way areas can be an enormous asset for community and urban living.
#2 – FAIRNESS.
I would like to see policing of easement properties in my cities and across the nation to be done so fairly and without discrimination.
Why Gardens Can Help Cities –
In cities across our nation initiatives are forming in relationship to parkway beautification, urban agriculture, water routing bioswale plantings, and residential landscaping. These initiatives are performing two roles; functioning as a practical solution to a problem and beautifying communities to raise economic feasibility.
Every day people are discovering that they can make a difference for their communities. For instance, perhaps they plant a parkway or right of way with drought tolerant native grasses that divert a water problem for the neighborhood. Or perhaps they plant a drought tolerant garden that helps bring more pollinators to the urban growing environment. Or perhaps they plant a garden that helps feed the local community.
By happenstance these types of practical landscapes planted on a public way might also be improving the value of the homes, reducing crime, and encouraging outdoor activities within the community.
Better yet, this landscaping is not created on the city’s dime, the gardens are built and maintained by homeowners on public property with their own funds and labor, saving the city considerable building and maintenance funds, yet allowing the city and the greater community to reap the rewards of having beautiful and attractive public right of ways.
When a homeowner builds a useful garden of this sort, there are several things that might happen that benefits a city regarding this plat of land:
- Less energy is used to maintain the property because no lawnmower or automated devices are generally needed to complete upkeep
- Less chemicals are used to maintain turf because these gardens do not typically need weed killers, this both saves the city money and prevents chemical run-off into water tables
- CO2 offset is less because no gas lawnmowers are used for these types of landscaping
- More water is saved because native plant landscaping does not need the same attention as grass and the plantings act as water sponges collecting water run-off
- Feeding the community’s hungry citizens with fruits and vegetables grown in the gardens help people living in the city survive in a down economy
- Neighbors come together to help work on the garden, promoting health, neighborliness, and community growth
- More gardens in the visible areas of a city means more tourism and visitors will want to come and spend money in a city, keeping the value of both homes and businesses in a city high.
There are many other benefits. I feel cities should be working to reward citizens who are putting out considerable time, money, and effort to build this type of landscaping which promotes sustainability and community.
For instance, the City of Warrenville has recently joined the Cool Cities Project. This is an amazing program whereby cities across the United States are taking the lead and becoming greener and more sustainable. Many of the cities participating in this project are trying to implement clean energy solutions that save money, create jobs, and help curb global warming and I know this is important to Warrenville. Having more citizens spending their own money and effort to create practical, solution-driven landscaping in right of way, easements, and lawns – particularly visible gardens to enhance home and business value – will contribute to this project in a strong way.
We gardeners and homeowners built these special landscapes to help the city and our community. We are saving the city money and helping our neighborhoods and communities. We are making a difference.
Under our current ordinance system, I feel as if gardeners (meaning me and other easement/ROW gardeners) who are trying to practice this forward and positive landscaping to help the city are being punished with recording fees, bureaucracy, and unfair policing. My term to describe all that is “Garden Tax”.
I feel like our community should examine these ordinances and policies and come together to build a better system which works with the Cool Cities Project. A system whereby businesses, residents, and the community at large benefit by creating these beautiful and practical landscapes.
Garden Tax Term Clarification
To clarify – the city is imposing an ordinance fee on my garden. Yesterday I said in my blog post – “You can imagine how upset I was when a city employee recently called me and announced that I would be required to sign an ordinance agreement and pay fees to the city on this garden.” I stated that it is a fee related to an ordinance from the very beginning.
I titled the fee as a “garden tax” and I did this because essentially a tax is a charge imposed by a government on a service, product, or activity in order to raise revenue. I also feel residents who are trying to beautify the city are being punished in a negative way with recording fees, bureaucracy, and unfair policing of ordinances and this is a part of what’s happening as well. The term “garden tax” is meant to incorporate all of these points into a single description. However, to be extremely clear, on the books the specific fee is not titled a tax, it is a processing fee set in place because of the ordinance for Right of Way and Easement land.
The city says it is not a revenue fee. The city says they are not breaking even on this fee they impose. The fee is $35 processing fee for the city and an additional $40 recording fee imposed by the county. This is a one time fee.
Right Of Way Versus Easement Clarification
Yesterday a city official went on a radio show with me. Both sides were well stated and approached from a calm and intellectual side. I am glad about that. The official said the above garden is on a Right Of Way and is owned by the city, but I had always thought my easement extended to the sidewalk, several feet beyond my fence line.
A city representative came to my garden last week, toured it with me and mentioned several times “the 10 foot easement” at the back of my property. She never showed me the plat or tried to measure or define the space, so I assumed she was simply referring to the garden behind the fence which is in question. I had a friend with me to witness this visit and I confirmed this with her – that no one showed us a plat or measured anything out with us.
During the radio interview the city official mentioned the term “Right of Way” [ROW] in referencing the landscaped space in question and that the city owned the property entirely. I had never heard this term in reference to my property and did not know it applied to the garden I had built. The garden does not encroach on an intersection or block traffic, which is what I thought defined a ROW situation. I was wrong.
Because I wanted to better understand what was happening, I sent a note to this city official to ask him to help me define the differences between easement and ROW and how it all works. He sent me a kind and helpful note back with a plat illustration demonstrating how and where the easement line is.
Turns out my fence rests on the back of the easement line and I have been inadvertently Guerilla Gardening on the city ROW without ever knowing it. Our city allows this, but requires an ordinance agreement be signed and a fee paid to do this. This fee is what I was protesting because I thought the gardens were on easement, not ROW.
According to the radio show commentary there has been an ordinance established since the late 1970’s although the ordinances have been revised over the years. However, when I called the city over five years ago and asked them about what I could plant in this over grown weedy/grassy area I was not sent to a special department to get an ordinance agreement with the city or anything of that nature. I was told by the person answering the phone that they did not know about easement planting and would call me back. When they called me back, the city told me what I could and could not plant but never told me I needed to pay a fee or sign anything. So I was unaware of the original ordinance. I called and asked and they did not tell me about it.
I was wrong about the definition of ROW and want to be the first person to detail it out so everyone knows I made a mistake in this. However, having said that, there are other issues.
As I understand from listening to the radio show yesterday, the city official explained that there has not been a specific complaint about my behind-the-fence garden. There was another homeowner in the City of Warrenville who was asked to pay the fees for an easement/ROW garden. This person pointed to my garden and several others in our community and said, “What about Shawna? If I have to pay the fees, so does she.”
So from what I understand from the radio conversation yesterday, the city listened to this man and went to the individuals who own these easement/ROW gardens – selecting only a few out of the hundreds of people who have easement/ROW landscaping in the city – and told them to sign the ordinance and pay the fee even though there was no specific complaint about their specific landscaping. On the radio, they said this was a complaint driven situation. However, I have never received a written complaint from the city or anyone else about my garden in any form. This afternoon I was sent a note from the city letting me know I would most certainly be receiving a letter to document, in writing, the Landscape License and Covenant Agreement permit requirements I need to comply with, the timeline for complying with those requirements, and the consequences of not complying with those requirements.
I do not know who this original man who made this complaint is. But he was not complaining about my landscaping if the city official explained correctly on the radio show, he was complaining about the process with which the city was policing the gardens. He was saying it is not fair that the city came after him for the ordinance fees and did not go after other people with easement/ROW gardens too. If this is what he is saying, I believe he is correct!
If the city has a citywide ordinance in place stating that all people with easement/ROW gardens should be required to sign the Landscape Covenant Agreement and pay a processing fee to the city, then everyone in the city who has this landscaping issue should have this fee levied on them. Not just that one original man, and certainly not just 5 or 6 gardens which were pointed out without complaints filed against them. Everyone. If the city does not have the staff to do this citywide policing of landscapes, then in my opinion they should reexamine the way these easement/ROW areas are addressed.
My point is that by insisting only a few people be pushed into signing the agreement and paying the fee when the rest of the city does not have to do so, it is singling people out in a discriminatory fashion.
I find this particularly unjust when I have never had an official written negative complaint against the specific landscaping we are discussing here from anyone from the city or otherwise. I have not heard about the other people who are being approached, so I do not know who they are and if they have received a formal complaint of any kind.
My concern is that the policing of the ordinance is based on the original complainant who was not complaining about my landscaping, but was complaining about how unfair it is that he would be singled out to be enforced when no one else in the city was. I agree with him. I think it is very unjust when the policing of ordinances is done so in an unfair fashion.
If the city is approaching this man and also approaching the 5 or 6 people he pointed out to enforce code on, then why isn’t the rest of the city – all the residents with landscaping in easement/ROW areas – also being approached? Choosing only a few just because they have larger landscaping areas is segregating a certain part of the population into a category. It is not fair. I see it as discrimination. The city does not.
What The City Told Me Today
Yesterday I sent a note to the city explaining that I loved Warrenville and wanted to work towards a compromise. I explained why I was so hurt and why I had a shocked reaction to their initial approach with me. I apologized for some of my fans I heard about that were radical and had sent harsh notes to the city. This is NOT what I ever intended. I want a peaceful approach and want more people in the city to work together.
They sent me an official response saying they do not have the ability to negotiate a compromise to the situation and are sending a letter to document, in writing, the Landscape License and Covenant Agreement permit requirements I need to comply with, the timeline for complying with those requirements, and the consequences of not complying with those requirements.
My Vision Of The Future and Hope
I dream of a future where homeowners can do something astounding – be allowed to make a difference with a garden landscape in public right of ways and easement properties with strong encouragement and support from their cities. We should ask our communities to examine these ordinances and policies which are rife with complication, filing fees, and unjust policing strategies. It seems to me that these gardens and landscapes are something that needs to be positively reinforced, not negatively reinforced with filing fees.
We need to find a way to come together to build a better ordinance and policing system which works with programs like the Cool Cities Project. A system that helps save money and helps bring money into our communities in a sustainable fashion. A system whereby businesses, residents, and the community at large benefit by creating beautiful and practical landscapes.
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Please leave a comment below in peaceful support and also please list any ideas you might have to help cities across the country understand more about why gardens can help cities.