Friday, August 26, 2011

Health Department Complaint against 438 East Main Street

Editorial Note: The below letter was sent to the Eye and we are posting in its entirety as it was sent to us. Nothing written in this letter has been researched or verified by the Eye, nor has the letter been edited. The letter expresses the opinion and experience solely of the person who wrote it.


My name is Jackson LaRose. I am the owner and inhabitant of 438 East Main Street. Last year, the health department lodged a complaint against the condition of my property, which they claim is a "potential harborage for vermin". The reason being is that I haven't mown my lawn, because I am attempting to repair my soil based upon accepted Permaculture practices. As such, the grasses and other broad-leaf annuals (chicory, dandelion, etc.) in my yard grown taller than they had deemed safe. They sent me a legal order that I cut the offending plants. I appealed in front of the State Board of Health, lost my appeal, and asked the Health inspector and city attorney what I needed to do to be in compliance. The health inspector's answer was,

"Cut everything."

I wasn't sure to what height, if trees and shrubs also counted, garden flowers, vegetables, etc.

After my repeated requests for more clarification, she became frustrated and referred me to the City Attorney. He told me that I could either mow or mulch. I chose to mulch, and spread town provided mulch on my property over the winter. In the spring, almost all of the grass species were gone (smothered by the mulch), allowing the broad-leaf annuals to spread. I thought this would be satisfactory, because grass is the only type of plant mentioned in the legal order, and the remainder who came up through the mulch are widely considered to be wildflowers (chicory, goldenrod, dandelion, yellow hawkweed, etc.).

Earlier this week I received a packet from the City Attorney. Contained within was a lawsuit for violating the order of the city. They threatened to sue me for $119,500 ($250 a day from the pre-appeal deadline of Jun. 21, 2010) plus any legal fees. I called the attorney to ask why I had been sent this, and he claims I had not complied with the order. I tryed to remind him of our conversation last November concerning the mulch, of course, he conveniently "did not recall", but he also said it did not look like I mulched at all from the pictures he saw (although there is clearly hardly any grass in my yard anymore, and mulch clearly visible). I asked what he wanted me to do, and he referred me to the Health Inspector. I asked her again what she would like me to do. Again,

"Cut everything."

I asked her for some guidelines I could follow in the future to avoid the threat of such a large lawsuit. Her only answer was,

"You know what to do, it has to go."

She also mentioned no "weeds" (but would not specify what she meant by that vague term), and that all flowers had to be "landscaped" (again, no definition of terms). She also refused to put anything into writing (statement of compliance, guidelines, etc.) She is coming by my house Monday morning to do a walk through so she can point out what she means, since she is either unwilling or unable to do so over the phone.

I am now afraid that this woman has become the overlord of my property. I don't want to wonder every time I adjust the flora of my yard, whether or not the specter of this outrageous lawsuit will return to haunt me. It is also my belief that the health inspector has taken our past exchanges personally, and will keep me "under the microscope" out of her dislike for me.

I spoke to the ACLU, and they advised me to get my story out to some local media outlets. I'm hoping you can bring some light on what I feel is an unjust situation.

- Thank You,

Jackson LaRose

438 East Main Street

Middletown, CT 06457

Editorial Note: The above letter was sent to the Eye and we are posting in its entirety as it was sent to us. Nothing written in this letter has been researched or verified by the Eye, nor has the letter been edited. The letter expresses the opinion and experience solely of the person who wrote it.


KO: The Insect Collector said...

I don't know anything about this case, but it seems really odd to me that the city could dictate whether or not weeds versus flowers can be grown on someone's property. That just seems overly intrusive.

Have you contacted Project Green Lawn? They seem to support environmental lawn practices. Maybe they could help you communicate your preferences?

Anonymous said...

Living proof that a person can survive without a brain.

Anonymous said...

what's the big deal about mowing your lawn and keeping it neat for your neighbors. You shouldn't need the details.

Jack said...

I have contacted Project Green Lawn, although they can sympathize, they cannot do much to help.

As for the anonymous comments, It isn't a big deal, but I'm now confused as to what is permissible or not based on what seems to be ad hoc opinion of the health inspector with no actual basis in facts, and no rationale behind it. So since there is no logic train to follow, how am I to know what this lady deems "acceptable" or "not acceptable"? Should I call every time I wish to alter the flora of my property?

Anonymous said...

Drive past, look at it, make up your own mind.

Jack said...

Yes, because drive-by public health risk assessments are always the most thorough. This should not be about aesthetic preferences. If I don't like the color of your house (or deck), I can't make the town force you to change it at gunpoint. If you don't like the look of my property, it's tough luck. The question here is one of a public health hazard, so the appearance of the property is irrelevant to the discussion at hand (supposedly).

Joanne Faust said...

I am the homeowner living next door to this disgrace. I knew the previous owners of the property well and they were free spirited, organic people that took pride in the lawn and maintained it. As a matter of fact, when they moved, my husband maintained the property to help in its selling. I have lived in my house for 5 years and should not be subjected to his laziness and uncleanliness of his property. As the article states, my mother has not been able to come for cookouts as she previously did because of the ragweed. He even has dogs he does not clean up after and the stench of dog poo on hot summer days was out of control. We did not even put out our lawn furniture this summer as we can't even enjoy the fruits of our labor living next to this mess. I went to the State hearing last year that he lost, and it was stated that the lawn and its growth should not be above 2”, obviously excluding bushes and trees. How is that not clear enough? His ignorance and unwillingness to maintain his property is what is causing his fine. If he just did what he State and City told him to do, he would not be in the mess he is in now!! We live in a residential neighborhood next to a supermarket, not in Coventry where this may be acceptable.

Joanne Faust said...

Addendum to my previos post: Please note, the article I was refering to was the one that was printed in the Middletown Press today (9/7/11) City Man Sued Over Tall Grass.