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Lockport plans public hearing on altered penalties for tall grass

LOCKPORT – The city may give property owners whose lawns aren’t properly mowed a chance to appeal the resulting fines.

The Common Council will hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall on the new law, which alters the penalties for tall grass and sets up an appeal process.

Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said a state court ruling last year required such a process. Otherwise, the penalties might be seen as illegally arbitrary.

The maximum height for grass remains 6 inches, and the city still will have the grass mowed and send the property owner the bill, as it has long done. If the bill is not paid, it’s added to the following year’s property taxes.

“The appeal is only for the fine,” Ottaviano said.

The current fines, which are assessed on top of the mowing cost, can range from $100 to $250, and a judge is allowed to add a 15-day jail sentence. Under the proposed revision, the fine will be $150, and the threat of jail is removed.

However, Chief Building Inspector Jason C. Dool said the deadline to mow, once a violation notice is posted, is to be extended from the current 48 hours.

“We’ve now lengthened that period out to five days, and during the five days, if they disagree about the height of their grass, they can appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals,” Dool said.

The Zoning Board meets only once a month, but Dool said that as long as the appeal is received in his office within the five days, the matter will be placed on that board’s agenda.

“We don’t expect to get a lot of these,” Dool said.

But none of this will prevent the city from sending a contractor in right away to mow the grass. The Council is expected to award a contract for that service Wednesday.

“It’ll be kind of hard to fight the fine if we’ve already mowed the grass,” said Council President David R. Wohleben.

The city also has a snow-shoveling ordinance, requiring all property owners to clear then sidewalk in front of their properties within 48 hours after a snowfall. Dool said the city is looking at changing that law so the provisions match the new mowing statute.

“We’ll do that before the snow falls,” he said.