New London resident to defend her landscaping at blight hearing
New London — A local woman with a background in landscape preservation is challenging the city’s property maintenance code, arguing that the “overgrowth” in her yard is not blight but rather a well-planned project to create an ecological landscape.
Maggie Redfern was issued a notice of violation from the city’s blight officer in July and ordered to trim down all plant overgrowth at her 286 Montauk Ave. property to 10 inches or less.
Redfern, who is the assistant director of the Connecticut College Arboretum and has led tree walks in the city, was issued an abatement notice when she did not cut the overgrowth. She has appealed the order and is scheduled to go to a hearing on Aug. 29 to make her case to Hearing Officer Gregg Wagman.
"I see my garden as cultivated. The definition of blight is an uncultivated site where weeds grow," Redfern said Friday. "Maybe its time to help the city rewrite its blight ordinance."
Blight Officer Kenyon Haye, hired by the city in November following the passage of a new city blight ordinance in 2015, said the violation notice was the result of an inspection of the property prompted by a complaint from a neighbor.
He said overgrown properties have been the biggest complaint over the summer and he has nearly two dozen other properties to catch up with.
Haye said he spoke with Redfern and walked her property and, while she may make a unique case for the apparent lack of maintenance, the property code is clear: “All premises and exterior property shall be maintained free from weeds or plant growth in excess of ten inches,” reads section 304.2 of the property code, which is incorporated into the blight ordinance. “All noxious weeds are prohibited. Weeds shall be defined as all grasses, annual plants and vegetation, other than trees or shrubs provide; however, this term shall not include cultivated flowers or gardens.”
Redfern objects to what she calls an “unclear blanket classification of weeds and plant overgrowth.” She refers to her yard as a cultivated garden that she has tended since she moved there in 2015.
“The goals for my garden include letting naturalized plants grow, removing exotic invasives, planting native plants, promoting pollinator health, minimizing water consumption and stormwater runoff, reducing fossil fuel usage and not using chemical fertilizers and pesticides,” she said.
Redfern lists 26 different varieties of weeds that she has removed from her garden.
“I am excited to be part of a growing movement of citizens to reverse the environmentally destructive side-effects of the American obsession with manicured lawns and landscapes,” she wrote.
Connecticut College has hosted seminars focused on the Smaller American Lawns Today, or SALT, movement introduced in June 1997 by Dr. William A. Niering, professor of botany at the college, and which offers an alternative vision of the monocultured lawn.
While her lawn might not be what others expect to see, Redfern said, lawns that need to be mowed every week are as beneficial to a community as asphalt.
Haye said he has stayed busy since he was hired, fielding a constant flow of phoned-in complaints about blighted or nuisance properties. From Nov. 1 to June 30, he has issued 136 notices of violation and 52 abatement orders for everything from uncut grass to abandoned motor vehicles.
He said violation notices, which amount to warnings, are the first step in addressing an issue, and they usually do the trick.
Civil citations allowed by the city’s blight ordinance, which carry a fine of up to $100 per day, are rare and Haye has not yet had the need to seek a criminal summons, which carries a stiffer $250 per day fine from the state.
He has issued just three citations, including one to a homeowner who dumped their furniture on the sidewalk, another whose property was covered in trash and a third who refused to cut overgrowth high enough to touch the power lines and later lost an appeal.
“I’d rather work it out with someone,” Haye said. “Ninety-eight percent of the residents who get a notice of violation address it almost immediately. That’s how most issues get resolved.”
Haye said he also doesn’t begrudge Redfern for appealing and said she is only exercising her right as allowed by city ordinance.
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