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Why Is The Metro Council Talking So Much About Grass?

Overgrown grass and the general disarray of thousands of residential properties in Louisville continues to be a thorn in the city's side.

Members of a Metro Council committee spent nearly an hour Tuesday afternoon voicing concerns about unkempt properties and the scourge of Johnson grass that overtakes many ditch lines each summer.

The subject has been near the top of the council's list of grievances since at least last fall.

"It's crazy, it's everywhere," said Councilwoman Cindi Fowler, a Democrat from District 14, on Tuesday.

The city's Vacant Lots Division was called to cut, clean or board 9,800 properties in 2015. That's a 23 percent increase over 2014, according to information provided by the city's codes and regulations department.

Robert Kirchdorfer, the head of that department, and Jeff Brown with Public Works updated the committee on efforts to maintain grass heights at vacant and abandoned properties.

Kirchdorfer said he believes the spike in referrals last year is due, in part, to an overly wet summer.

"The other thing that I think it is is that people are understanding we're out there," he said. "I hate to say, but the better job we do, the more people are going to want to call in."

Kirchdorfer praised the work of the city crew tasked with addressing such properties. He said in 2015, the Vacant Lots Division closed more than 9,800 referral cases and reduced their backlog by nearly 3 percent.

More than 80 percent of all requests for property cleaning in 2015 came from six council districts, according to the data. Those districts are 1-6, each of which is in West or Central Louisville.

Council members took umbrage with excessively high grass across the city last fall.

Councilwoman Jessica Green, a Democrat who represents District 1, said in September 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.

"This is a major issue for me and my district," she said.

Krichdorfer said this year, he hopes to stay in front of the problem. The city is deploying an additional crew to help keep the grass in check. Kirchdorfer pointed to a nearly 46 percent increase in the number of lots on the city-maintained list of properties that require monthly grass cutting.

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. In most cases, city crews aims to have the grass cut within 30 days.

Twenty-nine workers are employed in the city's Vacant Lots Division. The agency is split in teams to address the some 400 properties owned by the city's land bank, properties reported by residents and properties in need of boarding.

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.