08/19/12 — Board to review anti-litter policies

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Board to review anti-litter policies

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 19, 2012 1:50 AM

Property owners who allow their lots to become choked with overgrown weeds and/or littered with bags of garbage, discarded tires, furniture or appliances could find themselves facing fines of up to $250 a day until the lots are cleaned.

The Wayne County Planning Board Tuesday night got its first look at a preliminary ordinance that would allow the county to declare such properties as a public nuisance and require that they be cleaned up.

Board members had concerns about some of the wording, but agreed it is something the county needs to pursue.

Most of the county's municipalities already have such rules, County Planner Connie Price said.

"What we are going to do is that in areas of the county covered by the zoning ordinance, subdivision ordinance, mobile home park ordinance is to have a way to enforce weeded lots and uncontrolled vegetation, litter, trash and so forth on lots," Price said.

However, the county could consider making it a countywide regulation, Price said.

"So there is nothing in the county to control that?" Chairman Mike Aycock said.

There is not, Price said.

Aycock said that is the situation at the old Nahunta School, which is surrounded by overgrowth.

As proposed, the ordinance would not apply to situations like that, Price said. It would apply only to zoned areas or areas covered by the subdivision or mobile home park ordinances.

"We are trying to make sure people understand we are not out there trying to regulate open farmland or woodlands," Price said. "Say somebody has started a tree farm. The first few years of a tree farm it is really the weeds and wild brush out there that grow quicker than the trees do.

"It looks bad. We are not out there trying to say, 'You have to mow all that down.' Because what you are going to do is mow all the pine trees down at the same time."

Aycock said his vote would be for a countywide ordinance.

"The only reason for starting out with it this way was just because of manpower and looking at what we had to be able to enforce not knowing what kind of can of worms that we were opening up by getting into this," Price said. "It might be that if we started at this level, limited focused areas around schools, subdivisions and so forth -- then if we are able to expand it countywide at a later date, we could go whole hog."

If it goes countywide, the enforcement will come from the public calling in wanting something done about the problem, board member David Quick said.

"You are not going to have to go out and find it," he said. "It is going to be brought to you. If I was going to do it at all, I would incorporate it with the trash or landfill and make it countywide."

The proposal, in describing what would be considered a public nuisance, makes reference to any litter consisting of man-made or used materials "which is scattered, cast, thrown, blown placed, swept or deposited ... so as to accumulate" on property.

"How about chicken litter? Turkey manure?" board member Zeke Jackson said. "We have a whole lot of poultry operations. Is this going to impact anybody there?"

Since those areas probably do not fall inside zoned areas it would not be subject to the ordinance, Price said.

Jackson also was concerned about a section dealing with accumulation of dead animals, decayed meat, vegetables, fruit or other vegetable matter.

"The Soil and Water Conservation Districts, we encourage composting of dead animals and here we are regulating accumulation of dead animals," he said. "When I see this, it says Wayne County zoning ordinance. If it is just residential areas, it is OK."

To cover those concerns, the ordinance could read they are permitted uses or are permitted if part of a qualified farm operation, Price said.

The ordinance would apply to property owners, occupants or people who have property under their control, he said.

"I have major heartburn with this in that everything is being put back on the owner or occupant," Quick said. "I can take you out right now and show you a number of instances -- one where there is an unwanted sofa that somebody chose not to take to the landfill and pay the disposal charge. So they just dumped it on the side of my property.

"I get a couple of used tires a week that I don't want; that I didn't agree to take that people bring. I get bags of garbage that they are too cheap to arrange for a garbage service. So they bring their bags of household garbage and dump it at my place."

Quick said there is no longer any enforcement in the county on that issue and to put the onus on property owners or occupants was not fair.

He said there was a time people could call the Sheriff's Office and a deputy would open the bag looking for items that might identify the person who dumped the trash.

"The Sheriff's Office doesn't do it any more, the Solid Waste Department does it," Price said.

"I haven't been able to get anybody to do it," Quick said. "They are too busy. They don't have the personnel. My point is that if you are going to do this with this ordinance, it needs to integrate with the Solid Waste Ordinance and incorporate the two together -- not one in one direction and one in the other direction."

Solid Waste Department officials have reviewed the proposed ordinance and are "OK" with it, Price said. However, that does not mean it is ready for approval.

Both Jackson and Aycock agreed the ordinance needs "teeth" for enforcement.

Without enforcement it becomes a moot point, Jackson said.

"I would not be in support of this as it is," he said.

Aycock said the proposal was a "starting point" if nothing else.

"I think that we need to pursue it," Aycock said.

Aycock suggested Price revisit the proposal and include the provisions for bona fide operations.