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Fredonia plantings crackdown criticized

Charles LaBarbera, Fredonia’s chief code enforcement officer, defended a crackdown on plantings between sidewalks and roadways Monday.

A Fredonia resident criticized the village for cracking down on plantings between sidewalks and roads, while top code enforcer Chuck LaBarbera defended it, at a Board of Trustees meeting last week.

Judi Lutz Woods took the podium to say she was “really concerned” about the situation.

“I encourage you to go back and look at that law and rewrite it, because when it was written, we didn’t know about the environment,” she said. “Right now, most municipalities… are saying that they’ll even help you change from a lawn to a garden or vegetables or whatever. We know that growing grass is environmentally not good.”

Woods said she has spent “hours and hours” working on her own Temple Street property, including the section between the sidewalk and the road, “and people drive by and everyone stops and tells me how much they like it.” She questioned, “If the village really does own it, why aren’t you mowing it and taking care of it? Why do I have to mow it and take care of it, if then I’m told that I’m not allowed to use it?”

Woods added, “My deed actually says I own to the middle of Temple Street,” She cracked, “I could have a tollbooth if I wanted to.”

Before leaving the podium, Woods declared, “Please let me keep my flowers! Don’t tear them out!”

“Certainly,” said Mayor Michael Ferguson. He invited LaBarbera to speak on the issue.

“The sidewalk to the street is village property,” LaBarbera said. “Technically, you can’t do anything but mow the grass there. Yes, you are responsible for mowing the grass, just like you’re responsible for shoveling your sidewalks — and the sidewalks aren’t yours either, but the law says you have to maintain them and you have to shovel them.”

He continued, “Some people got carried away, started putting fences in the right of way, some shrubbery that was blocking fire hydrants and stuff. I can’t do selective enforcement, I have to enforce everybody that we see. We didn’t send out a whole bunch of letters, but we try to send a nice letter first before we send out a nasty violation or something.

“We’re just trying to educate people that from the street to the sidewalk is not your property. It’s village property. DPW has a problem with it. If they have to come through there, after you spent all that time on your plants — if they have sewer or water lines there, they’re going to dig it up, and they’re not going to replace it.

“The property maintenance law has been in effect for years. I spoke to the previous inspectors that were here before me. They enforced it. We’re enforcing it. We want to make sure that people know that’s not their property.”

Ferguson said to Woods that lawn signs are essentially governed by the same rules. The mayor added, “The DPW did call today. They’re not going to randomly rip out everybody’s lawn. But as Chuck said, there’s been some hazards.”

Trustee Ben Brauchler later commented he “wouldn’t be opposed to tinkering with” the village’s property right-of-way law. “I could see tweaking that law slightly to allow short, attractive plantings at the homeowner’s discretion,” he said.

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