The Westerly Sun

HOPKINTON — The Town Council considered but took no action Monday on a proposal to adopt the State Property Management Code, which would serve as enabling legislation allowing Hopkinton to enact a property maintenance code of its own. The ordinance would also give the town the authority to regulate grass and weed heights and levy fines for violations.

Properties designated as open space and agricultural land would be exempt from the regulations.

Most of the comments at Monday’s hearing focused on the issue of unmowed grass.

Council member Sylvia Thompson said she was skeptical of the need to regulate grass height.

“My attitude, when I first saw something about grass some years ago, was ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ and I still say ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” she said.

Deputy Zoning Official Sherri Desjardins said she has received numerous complaints about overgrown yards, but without an ordinance, she said, she was powerless to respond to the complaints.

“This time of year, this is when the complaints will start coming in and that’s why we bring this to your attention, because there’s nothing I can enforce without stipulating a height,” she said. “So I have neighbors calling about properties and I understand, people go on vacation, things happen. This is geared more towards the derelict properties.”

Council President Frank Landolfi introduced the ordinance stipulating a maximum permissible grass and weed height of 10 inches, but other councilors and several residents disagreed.

Councilor Barbara Capalbo brought a jar containing blades of grass of varying heights to illustrate her argument that 10 inches would be too short.

“I brought in ‘show and tell.’ This is my backyard and I mow it. … I think 10 inches is too low, but this grass stalk,” she said, pointing to the longest grass with a large seed head, “is 18 inches and 18 inches allows the grass to have seed and propagate, so I think 18 inches is a valid number.”

Councilor Sharon Davis said she thought the maximum height should be lower.

“I think 18 inches is too high,” she said. “Somewhere around 15.”

Desjardins said the ordinance would also address some of the health and safety problems associated with poorly maintained properties.

“We are in a rural community so there are people that have grassy fields, so I wouldn’t expect that we’re going to hold them to keep it down to 10 inches, absolutely not,” she said. “It’s more of a property maintenance thing, and with that come sanitary issues. You don’t want, around a dwelling, the grass at 3 feet. It will harbor rats, mice will breed in there, you’ll have snakes, so it’s basically geared towards around the house.”

Residents had mixed reactions to the proposed ordinance.

“I believe it’s helpful in the aspect of an average neighborhood,” one man said. “People that cut their grass, their grass is cut at 3 inches, not 15 or 18 or 10. When you let a lawn go unkept, it impacts the value of other people’s property. Nobody’s asking people to manicure their lawns or something like that. We’re just looking for something reasonable.”

The ordinance, as originally proposed, included fines of $25 per day for violations. A resident who opposes commercial solar projects in residential zones asked whether the fines might create hardships for homeowners who don’t have the means or the physical ability to mow their lawns. 

“One of the big pushes for solar projects has been ‘we need money, we need money,’ as I understand we do, but to defend and look out for the poor and the tired and people that are on a budget, and then you’re going to turn around and fine them $25 a day when they can’t afford gas for the lawnmower or pay someone to mow their lawns. It just seems extremely absurd,” he said.

In the end, the council agreed to eliminate the fine.

“I don’t think we want to get the money. That’s not the issue here,” Landolfi said.

The council voted to continue the hearing to give Desjardins additional time to clarify the details of the ordinance.


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(1) comment

Kathy S

No "mixed reactions" from this resident! To argue that long grass is somehow a dirty breeding ground for rats is disingenuous. However, if the grass were long enough to attract our harmless local snakes, these beneficial reptiles would likely control mice & rat populations. Some environmentally conscious homeowners allow their grass to grow to create a mini-meadow environment where native flowers, such as Black Eyed Susans and Queen Anne's Lace can flourish, providing sustenance and habitat for beneficial insects such as lacewings, lady bugs, praying mantis, parasitic mini-wasps, and hover flies, etc.. We are in a climate crisis, and, when energy expended by mowing, fertilizing and watering are taken into account, manicured lawns produce more greenhouse gases than they soak up. Chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides required for that perfect lawn have also been shown to leach into groundwater, kill beneficial insects like bees and soil organisms and sicken humans (one study showed a correlation with lawn chemical application and increases in autism!) and other animals. Why isn't the council addressing these REAL issues with the potential to affect its constituents' health. I would argue that a private well contaminated with lawn chemicals reduces a home's value far more than the neighbor's long grass; in fact, such a home would be unsellable !! In light of these factors, this ordinance is both silly AND burdensome. Furthermore, the model upon which this proposed ordinance is based, seems to be directed towards RI State Property, not homeowners. I know at least some of the council members are conservatives who claim to want smaller government (see their recent vote to "protect" the rights of semi-automatic rifle owners) - this grass ordinance is an example of exactly the opposite of that philosophy. Most Hopkinton residents who cherish their rural environment will probably like this slogan my neighbor recently suggested: "get off my *ss about my grass”! Tell your council to vote "no" to this ordinance!

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