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Boro adopts international maintenance code as law
Changes local spec to allow lawns to 18”
While some Statesboro City Council and Urban Redevelopment Agency members appear overhead Tuesday  morning via Zoom, City Manager Charles Penny, left, and City Attorney Cain Smith address the mayor and council.
While some Statesboro City Council and Urban Redevelopment Agency members appear overhead Tuesday morning via Zoom, City Manager Charles Penny, left, and City Attorney Cain Smith address the mayor and council. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

Statesboro City Council adopted the International Property Maintenance Code as a city law Tuesday by a 4-1 vote, after easing off on one localized provision so as to let grass grow up to 18 inches tall instead of 12.

In fact, 18 inches had been the suggested maximum height for grass and weeds when city officials discussed the ordinance in detail, with input from some property owners, beginning in November. The allowed height of vegetation in yards was one of several blanks in the IPMC that needed to be filled in locally. Other than these specifications, the code for how homes and other buildings and grounds are to be maintained was approved here exactly as endorsed by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for adoption by Georgia cities and counties.

But in the local specifications included with the IPMC when City Council voted it forward from a first reading Feb. 16, the maximum height for grass and weeds was stated as 12 inches.

In a phone interview Monday, city Planning and Development Kathy Field told the Statesboro Herald she didn’t know exactly how the shorter grass height had made its way into the proposal.


Fast-growing grass

Then when the second reading for final adoption arrived on Tuesday morning’s City Council agenda, City Manager Charles Penny said staff members had realized that this shift presented “an issue” and recommended that the vegetation height limit be changed back.

“We would recommend that we set it at 18 inches, and from a professional standpoint, I would recommend that to you because, from a code-enforcement stand, it doesn’t take long with all the rain we’ve had to get to 12 inches,” he told the mayor and council.

Penny said the city officials would need their attorney’s opinion on whether this change would require starting over with a new first reading.

This question arises because of another Statesboro ordinance, the procedural one that generally requires first and second readings at two separate council meetings before a new ordinance or amendment can be enacted. Previously a traditional practice, that rule was formally adopted in the so-called transparency ordinance enacted by the council in December 2018 at the instigation of District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum.

A public hearing always precedes a first-reading presentation, but no new hearing is required at the second reading. So if a proposed ordinance is changed significantly, it generally must revert to a new first reading, with a new opportunity for public input. But the council can waive this requirement by a unanimous vote.

City Attorney Cain Smith advised the mayor and council Tuesday that the change from 12 inches to 18 would be significant enough to return to a first reading.


Procedure waived

“Changing one number in a 40-page document is significant?” Boyum said. “I tell you what, if that is the case, I would make a motion to suspend the rules and then make a motion to include that in there. To go back through two more readings for one number in a 40-page document is just kind of nutty.”

Smith replied: “As long as that is a 5-0 decision, that is fine. We do recommend that change, and we do recommend waiving that formality.”

Boyum made the motion to waive the requirement for a new first reading. District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers seconded that motion, and the council vote was 5-0. All council  members participated, including District  3’s Venus Mack and District  4’s John Riggs,  who attended by Zoom teleconferencing while the other members and  Mayor  Jonathan McCollar were present in-person.


Show of hands

Meanwhile, District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr requested a change, for the time being, in the way council members indicate their votes. Voice votes are taken on most matters, but in recent meetings some members attend via Zoom, which produces a time delay when they speak, and others wear masks.

“It’s hard to keep up, particularly with people on Zoom, and I know it’s hard for (City Clerk) Leah (Harden) sometimes to tell when we just do voice votes,” Barr said. “I understand our ordinances call for voice votes, but there’s nothing in our ordinances to prevent also having a show of hands.”

So she requested that members do both “at least until the end of COVID.” McCollar said this was no problem, and other council members did not voice any objection.

Boyum then made the motion to adopt the IPMC, with the one change to make the maximum height of grass and weeds 18 inches. Chavers seconded it.

Saying “no” and raising her hand, Barr voted against this motion, which passed 4-1.


Barr’s objection

Having previously questioned the need for the volume of rules and specifications in the IPMC, she indicated that her vote Tuesday was because of those general concerns, not the grass height rule.

“I just had concerns about it being an onerous burden with the level of detail,” Barr said after the meeting. “I voted against it with apologies to the staff and all the work they’ve done, and I certainly am supportive of cleaning up houses and making the city safer and better looking. I’m just concerned about is it an excessive burden, that particular code.”

Most of the other rules were part of the code as originally developed or were specified at the state level. Of the few things that had to be specified locally, most are ranges for dates. For example, Statesboro has set Oct. 1 to May 1 as the period when all rental residential properties must have adequate heat, and Field, the planning and development director, noted that this is determined locally because  it varies with climate.


‘A great tool’

That the code will provide greater specificity than Statesboro’s old Nuisance Ordinance was Field’s, Penny’s and Smith’s main reason for recommending it.

“It will be a great tool for us,” Field had said Monday. “Because of the detail in it, we will be able to be much more specific with our verbal and written warnings and our citations in terms of what exactly the issues are that need to be addressed.”

Her department employs two code enforcement officers. They will not be enforcing these detailed provisions immediately but will introduce them over a period of months and work with property owners, Field said.

The maintenance code also has some application to commercial properties but will be particularly useful in maintaining standards for housing, Field said.

“Really it’s to help the residential building owner to understand what the issues are, and by citing the code, which is very specific, we’ll be able to assist them with making sure the structure  is  up to code, and of  course a byproduct of that is it helps the renters if it should be a rental unit,” she said. 

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