High grass and church sign debated by Culver council

Jeff Kenney
Citizen editor

Members of Culver's town council had a heated exchange with the representative of a local property owner over the length of grass at the site, marking the second year in a row of contention over the same matter at the property.

During the June 23 council meeting, Scotty Van Hawk, who told the council he is a paid representative of the 27 Group, was emphatic that the grass length at a residential property owned by the company at College and State Streets presents no violation of the town's public nuisance ordinance.

Town manager Jonathan Leist, responding to Van Hawk's query as to specifics of the violation, said the grass must be cut every 30 days.

Council president Ginny Munroe said she had driven by the property the day of the meeting.

"The whole lawn is this high," she said, indicating more than a foot in height. "I could see it from my vehicle and I have also walked by...it is unsightly and it violates the ordinance and needs to be cut."

Van Hawk countered that the grass had been cut five times thus far this year, and responded to Munroe's assertion that the town could cut the grass itself and put a lien on the property's tax bill, by suggesting the town was selectively enforcing its ordinance. Munroe, however, asked how Van Hawk could know the enforcement was selective without knowledge of who else in Culver received letters notifying them of the ordinance violation. It was noted that a number of properties in town received similar letters.

Several minutes of emphatic argument ensued as to whether the property was in violation of the ordinance, with Van Hawk asking to be shown a specific grass length in the town's ordinance which would objectively define the property's length as being in violation.

Munroe noted the council is in the legal position of interpreting the ordinance, and has determined the grass, which Van Hawk described as ornamental, is too high.

Council member Jean Rakich moved the town mow the grass at the site and put a lien on the property, which the council passed unanimously.

Later in the meeting, council member Dave Beggs asked if the council should review its ordinance as pertains to grass, with Leist suggesting a specific number of inches be designated rather than a frequency of mowing, something with which town attorney Jim Clevenger agreed.

A similar exchange regarding the property took place last year between Van Hawk and the council.


Also debated during the meeting was a follow-up to a previous request by St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church to place a directional sign at the northwest corner of College Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, with Jannie Zehner representing the church before the council.

During the previous meeting it was noted the sign, as proposed, did not meet the town's ordinance specifications, and Zehner distributed an image and information indicating the sign's specs had been changed to conform.

The other point of contention at the previous meeting was the fact that the proposed location, while it lies technically within the town's right-of-way, sits alongside privately owned property, meaning the owners would have to mow around it. Another church's sign approved by the council a few years ago was placed on property belonging to Culver's fire department and thus didn't present the same issue as the St. Mary's sign.

Leist said he had not yet spoken with the property owner at the site to ascertain their feelings about the matter, as had been suggested at the last meeting.

It was suggested the sign could be placed there on a trial basis, though council member Jean Rakich said doing so didn't make sense in light of the expense of fabricating the sign.
Council members Ed Pinder and Dave Beggs expressed concern about placing the sign where property owners would have to work around it. Munroe countered that trees and town signs are often placed in the town's right-of-way.

Pinder acknowledged property owners have no say in what's placed in the right-of-way, but he added, "We were voted in by homeowners."

Rakich, who initially hesitated to make a motion in favor of the sign due to her membership in the church, did eventually move it be placed at the site without the homeowner's permission; the move, however, received no second.

Audience member Russ Mason questioned the logic in delaying permission for the sign.

"If they come back and say 'no,' are you not going to allow it?" he asked.

Pinder said the council might approve the sign even if the property owners object, leaving Zehner asking why the council would delay a decision.

"We're looking at it time-wise," she said. "And at production, and its summertime."

With a few council members continuing to express their preference that the homeowner be consulted, the matter was tabled to the next meeting."