Members of the Pataskala City Council Committee to Study and Make Recommendations are watching the grass grow - and so should residents.

Members of the Pataskala City Council Committee to Study and Make Recommendations are watching the grass grow — and so should residents.

The committee met Sept. 26 to discuss changes to the city’s lawn and noxious weed regulations, which haven’t been updated in nearly 20 years.

Committee member Joe Gernert said changes to the ordinance aren’t necessarily designed to make lawn care tougher for residents — in fact, in some ways, it’s easier, he said — but they are, in large part, designed to force banks and developers to maintain the yards of vacant homes.

“We needed to revise that a little better to make it more resident friendly,” said Gernert.

He said the major changes the committee is proposing for the existing ordinance are to drop the height of maximum allowable lawns from 12 inches to 8 inches, and to decrease the lot size that must be kept free from noxious weeds from 2 acres to 1.5 acres. Another significant proposed change is to replace specific definitions of noxious weeds with language that is more subject to interpretation.

Gernert said the committee will recommend to city council Oct. 3 that the height of offending foliage be lowered because the city was running into problems with lawns and weedy areas becoming too high to contend with by the time the city had the opportunity to mow them.

“By the time you got around to doing it, it may be 2 feet,” he said.

Pataskala Mayor Steve Butcher agreed that properties with 12-inch-high grass and weeds could be twice that length before they were trimmed.

“Developers and banks found it cheaper for the city to bill them than to take care of it,” Butcher said. “Some of those properties were jungles.”

He said the height regulation needed to be lower and the fines increased to convince owners of vacant properties to crank up their lawnmowers.

Butcher said there are good reasons to relax the definition of a noxious weed. He said he is puzzled that as residents hear possible changes are coming for the weed ordinance, they assume that more plants will be defined as “weeds” when they believe the specific plants have a legitimate purpose.

For example, milkweed is mentioned in the current ordinance and could be considered a noxious plant. However, milkweed is an important part of a monarch butterfly’s habitat and wiping out all local milkweeds could be harmful to the species.

“The complaints are about things that are already in the ordinance,” Butcher said.

He said some of the things people are worried about would be removed from the proposed ordinance.

“The thing you have to ask yourself is, ‘is it out of place?’” Butcher said.

For example, half a dozen 2-foot-high milkweed plants wouldn’t appear out of place in a huge meadow. However, those same plants would be out of place on a half-acre lot.

Butcher said the noxious-weed ordinance is the final ordinance to be approved of four specifically designed to address property-maintenance regulations. He said the city’s regulations needed to be more specific about what constitutes “junk,” whether the material is furniture, appliances or broken-down vehicles, for example.

Butcher said most people would look at a yard full of discarded tires and see an ugly breeding ground for mosquitoes and other insects. However, the property owner may consider removal to be too expensive or too much of a hassle. Regulations must be specific enough to force the property owner to remove them.

Basically, Butcher said, equipment designed solely for indoor use, such as furniture or appliances, should not be stored outside for long periods of time.

Pataskala City Council will consider the proposed changes to the noxious-weed ordinance at its Oct. 3 meeting.