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Council Members Urge Quicker Action On Mowing Abandoned Lots

Louisville Metro Council members are taking umbrage at excessively tall grass on vacant lots in the city.

Council members on Wednesday peppered Metro government's director of codes and regulations with questions and concerns during a meeting of the Public Safety Committee. City crews cut about 1,000 vacant lots each month, said Robert Kirchdorfer. But requests for service have increased this year, and a rainier-than-usual summer along with a widespread case of weed-like Johnson grass have led to bigger problems than in recent years.

Still, Kirchdorfer said he believes city crew were doing a good job keeping vacant and abandoned tidy and trimmed.

Some council members disagreed.

"I think there's something wrong with the process, this whole thing needs a reexamination," said Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, a District 5 Democrat.

Hamilton, whose district has more vacant and abandoned properties than any other, said abundant rainfall is no excuse.

"You know it's going to rain," she said.

For city crews to cut the grass on most vacant lots, the codes and regulations department must first issue a citation to the property owner, and an appeal process must conclude before a lot can be mowed, Kirchdorfer said. The process must be repeated every time a lot needs mowing.

In the best-case scenario, a vacant lot will be mowed within 15 days of being referred to the city, he said. Citations can be issued if the grass is 10 inches or taller.

Currently, Louisville has more than 8,000 vacant or abandoned properties, according to a recent report from the city's Vacant and Abandoned Property Department.

Councilwoman Jessica Green, a District 1 Democrat, said the "red tape" that delays the mowing of vacant lots needs to be removed. She said she'd be willing to use some of her district's discretionary funds to get the lots cut, if she could.

"Let me do it," she said.

Green said the tall grass on vacant lots is a public safety issue because it attracts rodents and is a signal to criminals that a structure is vacant.

Green asked Kirchdorfer if a larger crew dedicated to cutting grass would make it easier to address all the vacant lots in the city. He didn't directly answer the question, saying instead he needed a clearer understanding on what the city's expectations are regarding mowing vacant lots.

Currently, Metro government employs about 30 people to maintain vacant and abandoned properties, as well as three crews of jail inmates. The division has a budget of about $2.5 million.

Kirchdorfer said the crew does more than cut grass at vacant properties. They often are tasked with cleaning up illegal dumping sites, and in the winter months, they can also help out with road crew work, he said.

"We are improving some, but there is a lot of room for improvement," he said.

Councilman Kelly Downard, a District 16 Republican, proposed creating an app that would alert residents interested in cutting grass of vacant properties that need to be mowed. He said the city could also consider paying residents who mow overgrown grass on vacant properties.

"Government doesn't do this very well," Downard said. "Let's think outside the box."

At the moment, the city has a 311 mobile app that allows residents to report issues, including tall grass on vacant properties.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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