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Grassroots Solutions #4 –Reclaiming an eyesore

July 2, 2016

Once upon a time there was a little piece of land that no one wanted.

Somehow over a span of 110 years a 60 x 20-foot piece of property became an orphan.

Although it fronted the street, there was a city utility easement that meant that access had to be on foot, i.e. no vehicles could cross the city property without permission. It was effectively landlocked unless it could be accessed from the adjoining property.

Multiple land sales, a botched city survey and a boxcar load of red tape conspired to leave this little piece of ground to exist as a neighborhood dumping ground.

At one time it had an owner, but when the city widened the roads bordering it, the lot was left off the survey. When the man who thought he owned it sold his home in 1971, the property was excluded from the deed, a fact not noted by any of the parties to the sale.

For many years the plot was tended as garden space, with an apple tree and raised beds. Then in 2002 the current owner’s grandchildren decided to make a little pocket money by selling produce they raised there.

The city got involved, requiring them to get a business license. In 2005, the license became conditional on having soil tests done and when those came back with higher than normal levels of nitrogen derived from cow manure, the owner of the property was cited for non-conformance to pollution statutes among other things and fined a substantial amount of money.

He eventually beat the fine when a new survey showed he didn’t actually own the land. Neither did his neighbor, and to the city’s dismay, they didn’t own it either.

From 2005 to 2015 the property was simply abandoned. It went from a tidy little garden spot to being the neighborhood trash dump. The neighbors put up fences to show it wasn’t theirs.

People would walk by and fling their beer cans, liquor bottles, baked bean cans, half-eaten sandwiches and candy wrappers into it. Flies and mosquitoes called it home and it smelled bad.

Once and a while the city would half-heartedly spray it for weeds when they did the easement, but mostly it was just there.

In 2015 the neighborhood got tired of trying to get the city or the neighbors to clean it up and one holiday weekend some 20 of them did it themselves.

31 pickup loads of trash, garbage and dead trees and brush were hauled away to the dump. Several pickup loads of multi-colored gravel were hauled in and laid out in a star shape over rolls and rolls of plastic sheeting. They put up a 20 foot long 8 ft high netting wire fence across the front, bordering the inner easement line to stop people from throwing things into it.

It cost each person about $25 for the supplies and the gas to haul the trash and gravel, which was paid for by an anonymous donation.

When the city noticed it the next Monday, they weren’t as happy as you might think they should have been (apparently because the easement was trespassed upon), but no one would ‘fess up to being on the work crew.

The little lot still just sits there. No one can use it, but it doesn’t smell, draw flies, endanger anyone or cost a dime of taxpayer money to spray.

Aren’t grassroots solutions grand?

This is scheduled to be the last in this mini-blog series. The point is, sometimes government creates the problems, and in many cases they can’t solve problems nearly so well as we can solve them ourselves.

Remember that on this Independence Day weekend.

From → op-ed

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