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Update On The Hell Strip Sidewalk Garden Situation #NOGARDENTAX

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hell strip garden

Today I went to pay my fees on the hell strip garden I built. The world did not end. There was no explosion or marching band. There was no hateful arguments or angry protests. There was just me, alone, feeling sad that I had to do something I did not agree with which I felt did not move my community into a sunnier limelight. I turned in the Landscape License and Covenant Agreement with the fees the city requires of me because I cannot afford the $75 per day fine associated with non-compliance. Specific compliance date is March 9, 2012, so I really had not choice. It had to be done.

As I mentioned in my first post and second clarifying post on this issue, the City of Warrenville is having me pay the fee related to processing of the paper work associated with right of way/easement garden I take care of. I am titling it a “garden tax” because I feel that people in communities nationwide, not just in my city, are being discouraged from beautifying their community’s “hell strips” along sidewalks by facing fees and fines instead of being rewarded for enhancing public areas at their own considerable effort and cost.

Parts of My Garden Were Dug Up By ComEd This Week

When you garden on Right of Way or Easement property you might have to suffer through a utility company or the city coming through and digging up your  garden if they need access to repair something. Just this week, for example, a big team of burly men from Commonwealth Edison came to dig up a section of the behind-the-fence garden – the very garden we have been discussing in these posts the last few weeks.

hell strip garden

You can see them working in the above photo of my off-season garden. I spoke with the men and they were cooperative and agreed to only dig up a tiny little area in the garden as they did not want to damage it if they did not have to. They saved as many plants as they could and set them aside so I could replant them at my convenience. Thank you gentlemen!

If you have a right of way or easement garden, these things can be expected to happen occasionally and are certainly a risk when installing a garden like this. My advice is to cooperate with the teams that have to do the work and they will cooperate with you. I still firmly believe that the risks of installing a garden like this in a public area are worth it for the greater reward of inspiring and helping the people in the neighborhood you live in. I am looking forward to the green spring growth that will be appearing in the next weeks.

Of course, I am absolutely sure that it is purely coincidence that they came out to dig a section of my garden up while all this was going on.

What I Submitted To The City

At the top of this post you see a photo of the list of paperwork I gave the city today for the fees related to the “hell strip” garden (shown below). This might be what you have to turn in to your own city (or not) depending on where you live  —

  1. The City of Warrenville Landscape License and Covenant Agreement.
    1. Signed Agreement.
    2. Drawn site plan for both front lawn and behind-the-fence easement areas showing the location of things like plants, benches, rocks, decorator items, pots, trellis, and arbors.
    3. Schedule A – a detailed write up of contents of both garden plans (front and back) with any and all future planned additions listed or there will be an additional recordation fee charged.
    4. All contents were notorized by a notary public as required.
  2. Written approval from the adjacent property owners I have or am planning to landscape behind (even though they do not own the property).
  3. $35 fee. I will be billed an additional $40 from the county for a second processing fee at a later date.
hell strip garden

Benefits of a Sidewalk or “Hell Strip” Garden

Because it is a down economy, many cities are facing financial devastation, bankruptcy, and much more. My dream is that people who live in cities across the United States can address these issues by helping to build community. Individuals can be rewarded for beautifying the community instead of slapped with processing fees and fines.

When a homeowner builds a useful organic garden like this some amazing things happen; there is less CO2 and chemicals used in our community, hungry people can have food, less energy is used to mow, homes improve their value, businesses and tourism are encouraged and the best thing ever – neighbors come together to help work on the garden, promoting health, neighborliness, and community growth.


Please leave comments below – I would love to hear your feelings on this issue. Thank you.

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  1. I'm sorry you had to pay a fine on the garden. It hardly seems fair, and not smart of the city when they should be encouraging people to take responsibility and take care of public right-of-ways.

  2. I'm bummed you had to pay, but completely understand. I'm with Pam on this – if I were a forward-thinking city I would want people to garden and beautify their spaces. I'm proud of you for speaking out and being a class act, as usual. Keep up the good work.

  3. How sad that you didn't have someone to go in there with you – you are only 5 hrs way, I would have considered it! I hope your garden inspires people across the town to do similar things and get the regulations amended.

  4. I'm sorry you had to pay, but am glad you handled it so well. Cities would be well served to consider such improvements a gift instead of a way to create income.

    We've beautified the sidewalk easement directly in front of our house with no issue and have been talking about doing the side strip and a corner piece along our back wall. Thanks for the reminder to check with our city's codes first 🙂

  5. Shawna, you've been on my mind a lot this week, wondering what the final outcome of this was. I do believe it is extremely short-sighted on the part of the city not to see that beautifying those neglected areas will only benefit the community at large. I do hope someone in charge will reconsider this thing and undo this law.
    You're doing great things here, and you are definitely influencing a larger community than your own. That's something to be very proud of! Hugs!

  6. We had a similar issue years ago when we took over our right of way strip in our garden. We were on a corner so we had 2 strips. The city abandoned maintenance due to budget cuts so the citizens were required (and fined if they didn’t) to maintain them. We planted wildflowers and herbs. We even maintained the area around the corner fire hydrant. Amazingly enough, our strips were mowed every 2nd and 4th Fridays by the city. Only our strips were mowed on our street.

    Your hell garden is beautiful. I know it was a struggle but you have made a place of peace and beauty within your neighborhood that is enjoyed by so many. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  7. After reading this story and the outcome I am asking myself where is the council person in your district and if they voted yes on this redicolus motion if so hopefully you threw your hat in the ring and ran for city council for your district who knows it could be your calling. Kal

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