today i took the kids to pick strawberries and cherries. we had a great time, and came back with bags and bags of yummy produce. the cherries were so beautiful, and the strawberry patch smelled amazing! it made me wish we had more land to plant on!! (shhhhhhh- don’t tell the city officials; i might get cited for unauthorized wishing…)
i came back and tried to respond to the comments on this blog- really really sincere thanks to EVERYONE who is following and commenting and offering words of encouragement- it means so much to us that we are not alone in this!
i figured i should update everyone, even though there is really nothing to update! the city official seemed to have dug in his heels yesterday, and i am hoping that doesn’t lock the city into an untenable position where they have to keep fighting with us to save face.
we have gotten so many calls about the news broadcasts, and some people who work with my husband said they were discussing it on the radio this morning too. i thought the coverage was very fair on both stations- and it was really interesting to see them each stressing different points! after spending a big chunk of time with both channel 2 and channel 7, i was very curious to see which snippets of conversation they would broadcast. it’s still somewhat unreal to have been on TV, and every time i watch the clips people have posted, it takes me a minute to remember that it is me! my husband has been dealing with lots of calls about legal advice and interviews and whatnot- he is SO much better at this than i am!- so it has been quite a busy day!
we keep kind of hoping that the city will magically contact us and tell us they are clarifying the language so it is clear what they want, and then we can discuss the specific things they have problems with in our yard. so far, their only problem seems to be the vegetable plants. i have had people here and on other blogs and lists try to dissect the potential problems- we have discussed the woodchip mulch and the wooden beds and some other miscellaneous items- but the only thing on every citation and every document we have from the city specifies that the vegetables are the violation. hhhm- just leaves me shaking my head…
on another note- i just want to review the facts and the timeline of this whole saga so that people who are coming here for the first time can have a synopsis:
after our sewer pipe was broken by the city’s tree roots, we had to dig up the entire lawn to get to the pipe and repair it (at our expense, thank you oak park…) after that we were left with a front yard covered in mounds of dirt.
we became interested in putting garden beds with vegetables, so i called the city to find out if it was permitted. after speaking to the person in charge of zoning, we were told that we probably couldn’t do a garden because nobody had ever asked about it before. since that is obviously not proof that it can’t be done, i asked the zoning person to please check on it for me. in our next call, he told me that he had been able to find out that we cannot put a fence around our front yard (????) but he had been unable to find anything about vegetable gardens in the front yard. the only thing he could find said that the city does allow decorative plantings.
ok, i thought- we have our answer. we can do decorative plantings- exactly what he told me we could do. WE WERE NEVER TOLD NOT TO DO IT. (contrary to his assertion on the news last night- ugh!!)
so, we had someone professionally make the garden beds so they would look nice. we planted grass on the front part of the yard, and put pathways between the garden boxes. we bought a pretty bench swing, and got pretty trellises for the tomatoes and the peas. we put garden paving stones out to make it nicer. we planted everything cleanly, in nice rows, with no huge plants that would hang over or look unkept. we thought we did pretty much everything in out power to comply with the city’s allowance of decorative plantings.
a week or two later, the code enforcer came out and gave us a warning- no vegetables allowed in front yard- must relocate. so i had a very pleasant conversation with the code enforcer and explained that i was under the impression that what we were doing was fine, and if it wasn’t fine- please show me where it says vegetables are prohibited. it doesn’t say that anywhere- but they told me that if i did not move the garden, i would get a citation. i kind of thought they were bluffing- just trying to pacify someone or something…
so, i searched online for the zoning codes- nowhere to be found. i went to the city office and asked for a copy of the codes- i was told they don’t have a copy. i asked if there are pamphlets or something for the citizens, so we can know what we are allowed to do and not allowed to do. they didn’t have that either. someone suggested that maybe i should try our public library- but they are closed for renovations until some time in july. i asked how they enforced violations if nobody in the city had a copy of the codes. they said that they figured the code enforcer probably knew the rules… circle back to square one…
the citation arrived, and we were cited for having vegetables. the code says that all unpaved surfaces shall be covered with grass, shrubbery, or suitable live plant material. i figured we were fine- we do have suitable live plant material. the city told us that suitable means flowers. then they told us it means you can’t have vegetables. in court, they said suitable means similar to the neighbors. in the interview last night the zoning person gave some weird obsolete definition of the word suitable. it’s like the twilight zone. and all along we have gone out of our way to do the right thing! we still think what we have is suitable. that’s the problem.
we went to court the other day and the prosecutor said there is obviously a question about the interpretation of the phrase “suitable live plant material”, so we will have to take it to trial. i requested a jury trial, hoping that 12 normal citizens will see that the city is just making things up on the fly. the ordinance doesn’t say what it doesn’t say. that’s it…
i have been keeping this blog, hoping to find other people who had been through similar situations. i wanted some guidance on how to deal with the city. i haven’t been able to find anyone (well, there is one man in plymouth, who i am planning to call later), and even people in farming and in the legal field think this is so bizarre they have never heard of anything like it.
so, that’s where we are. we didn’t provoke a fight with the city.
we are not looking for 15 minutes (or any minutes!) of fame.
i believe that we are right and that it is clear in the ordinance.
we are sad and scared and upset that the city feels like it can just go after people for random reasons on random whims and they aren’t accountable.
so, here we are. thanks for joining us on the journey.