July 9, 2013 by Kriscinda Lee Everitt
So, yesterday evening was the big Board of Supervisors meeting that we’ve been sort of preparing for. By “sort of,” I mean, I went through a phase of wanting to be overly prepared and hit them with some shock and awe. I did a bunch of research and reading, solicited advice from trusted sources, and almost…almost…went overboard. Then, the longer I did that and the more time passed, the more annoyed and fed up with all of it I became (patience is a virtue, just not one of mine). By the time the meeting rolled around, I’d abandoned the idea of overwhelming them with information on weed laws and the constitutionality of the specific wording of township ordinances. I had the information I needed in my head—if I needed it—but otherwise, we went in and played dumb.
We were expecting Bob and his wife, Janet, to show up with a posse of neighbors. They did not. It was the two of them and the two of us (plus the lovely Laura of Butler, who kindly came for moral support—or to watch the potential carnage—I respect either motivation).
We had arrived before them, so, after a woman made complaints about a barking dog, we were called upon to air our grievance. I said that we were there to respond to someone’s grievance against us, that we had some issues regarding the mowing of our lawn, which we resolved with the township over a month ago, and so we’re not entirely sure why we’re here.
Bob, it turns out, does not wear the pants in his family. Janet does. He said hardly a word the entire time, but she couldn’t shut up.
So, it looks like this…we were under the impression that they would be citing a “sanitation” ordinance regarding the “overgrowth of grass, weeds, and other vegetation.” We were going to argue against the definition of “weed” and also challenge the “overgrowth” issue, as we mow around the field, thus, it is maintained. But that’s not what they did. They did much worse, and by “worse,” I mean worse for them.
All we really needed to do to be good with the township was to mow around our structures to prevent a fire hazard. There is no footage specified in the ordinances regarding this, so the zoning officer relies of some international code that specifies 25-30 feet. We’ve done that, and more than that. We’re good with the township. Janet decided this was their best official complaint to make against us, which is in fact, not even against us. She’s upset because there is no footage specified in the township ordinances, so she’s questioning where the zoning officer is getting this numbers.
Here’s the thing. Technically, her argument works against them. As far as I can tell, that the zoning officer even came back with a footage for us to work with, it forces landowners to mow at least 25-30 feet. According to the way the township ordinances are worded right now, technically, we could mow two feet around everything and leave the rest. So, by pointing this out, she’s actually undermining the zoning officer’s authority and showing us that, if we wanted to, we could fall back on what the township ordinance says and not really mow anything!
So, basically what she did was complain vaguely about the aesthetics of our property, stated several times that the previous owners had mowed everything for 23 years, and cited our good neighbor having to kill a rat in their basement as proof that our property was a menace (“we’ve never had rats here before!”). All the while, she kept hammering this point about the 25-30-foot fire hazard rule, the footage of which she questioned, I think, in order to create some semblance of actually having an official complaint and not just pushing their personal opinions about our lawn.
It was a sad effort. It was sloppy and actually difficult to respond to (it’s easier to respond when the argument is ordered in some way). So, we explained that yes, the grass had gotten long, but we explained some of the difficulties we’d been having, primarily that the previous owners sold us a crap mower along with the house.
Note: While I tried to respond, Janet repeatedly interrupted me (I did not say a word while she went on her rant). After I’d explained some of the personal issues that had been distracting us and they would have no idea about, she interrupted and said “Well, you don’t talk to us. You haven’t come to say hello.” I said we shouldn’t have had to and that, in terms of communications with them, it’s been limited to their passive aggressive, walk-all-around-the-issue approach. I said to the board that not once did they approach us and attempt to speak to us like adults and directly address the issue they’d been having with our lawn. Our communication culminated in the infamous WSRRA letter, of which we brought five copies—one for each board member. As Big A passed them out, we heard Janet say, “Oh, good job, Bob!” (This was a satisfying highlight).
As for the Webbs having kept the lawn the way they did for 23 years; I pointed out that prior to that, the land had been a farm for well over 160 years. We’re right up against a property that is still a functioning farm. At this point, it occurred to the chair of the board that the Webbs had actually applied to be re-zoned a few years ago so that a potential buyer of the property could keep horses in the barn. (Understand, Bob and Janet and the Webbs are good friends…I can’t imagine Bob and Janet would have relished the smell of horse manure wafting up to their house, but apparently that would have been okay.) I pointed out that we’d considered chickens and maybe in a few years we could get into that, but right now, all we want is the vegetable garden and to be at liberty to create a more rural, natural landscape on our property.
About the rat. True, our good neighbor had killed a rat in his basement. This, however, happened long before our grass got long, as it was very early spring. I pointed this out and that it had nothing to do with us (by the way, it is remarkably galling to be accused of attracting “vermin”). Now, our good neighbor is pissed at having been brought into it and I suspect he will have words with Bob and Janet, the result of which we can’t wait to hear about.
We defended the growth on the acre next to their property by explaining that, eventually, we’d like to put in a meadow of indigenous Pennsylvania wildflowers there. We’d been informed that the soil in that area is fill and so it needs a little bulking up in terms of nutrition, so we’re allowing it to grow out. We will mow it before winter for mulch, and then we’ll let it grow up again. It’ll take a few years but eventually it’ll be ready to till and sow. Janet chirps in and says “Well, if they want to grow flowers, that’s different. We’d be okay with that.”
I refrained from turning around and saying, “Lady, you’re not getting it. We don’t give a shit what you want. We’re not looking for your permission.” Big A did respond by saying, “Well, we’re glad you’re okay with that because it’s what we’re doing.”
We talked about the Webbs having mowed everything, including the woods. I said it’s insane to mow your woods. It’s full of sticks and a pain in the ass, to which Janet interrupted and said “Well, the Webbs did it.” I said, well, they don’t live there anymore. She kept interrupting to argue everything I said until the chair finally told her to stop it. He said that I’d allowed her to say what she had to say, now she should respect me and let me say what I needed to say.
Although it was frustrating, I was pretty proud of myself for having kept my composure. I almost lost it once when she said “We value of property,” referring to them and our surrounding neighbors, implying that we somehow don’t value our property. I almost turned around and tore her 12 brand new assholes, but I didn’t. I think I pointed out that that was insulting, but honestly, my brain was boiling at that point and I’m not sure.
I think that’s basically how it went down. It wasn’t as ordered as I had hoped, and therefore we didn’t get to say half the things we wanted to say, but I think we got out what was important. Most importantly, we came across and reasonable and they did not. I even took out my nose ring and wore a nice button-up. Big A tied his hair back and put on a polo shirt. We did the best we could.
In the end, the chair said that, in terms of the ordinance, he would talk to the zoning officer and if the ordinance needed to be changed to include a specified footage, then they would see about doing that. This does not affect us because we’ve complied already. In terms of everything else, they would just have to come out and look at the property and see if we can come up with something that makes everyone happy.
Well, we know there will be no compromise, because there is nothing to compromise. They’re going to see that our property is beautiful and it’s really been coming together lately. They’re also going to see that the acre most immediate to Bob and Janet’s is mowed around and maintained. They will also see that the rest of the property doesn’t even affect Bob and Janet because it’s not near their property. Additionally, they will see some of the other issues we’ve been dealing with neighbor-wise, including two that seem to think it’s okay to mow quite a ways into our property as a way of extending their own yards. In one case it’s about ten feet or so, in the other, way in the back, it’s about 15-20 square feet (dude, really?). Also, back there, there is—right next to a No Dumping sign—a pile of rubbish they’ve dumped back there.
So, although everything wasn’t resolved last night, we can now see that Bob and Janet are complete idiots who cannot control themselves. They have no real argument. And we’re confident that, when the board members visit, not only will they see that what we’re doing here is quite lovely, but we’re being bombarded on all sides from a thousand presumptive assholes who can’t face the fact that we own this land and they do not.
I think they’re going to side with us.
That said, we still need that fence (signs obviously don’t work with these assholes).