Fed up with unkept yards, Burnsville plans a new series of code inspections.
The dandelion's days are numbered.
At least that's the hope of the Burnsville City Council -- and residents who have complained about weeds, junked cars and sagging siding. The south metro suburb plans to get tough on property maintenance.
The city intends to switch from a complaints-only system of code enforcement to inspections from the street every three years of every building in town.
"Plopped in there in between beautiful lawns are dandelion gardens and wild weeds where the seedlings are blowing into their yard," said Council Member Dan Kealey. "It's increasing the burden on the ones that are already taking care of their property to fight off the invasion of weed blossoms coming from next door."
The code enforcement push is part of a broader effort in Burnsville to spruce up an aging suburb with lots of apartment buildings and an increasing number of single-family homes converted to rental.
Council members also wonder whether regular code inspections might help bridge differences in cultural standards as immigrants move in.
"We really need to work on this, that we figure out a way to bring people into the understanding of what a community standard is," Council Member Mary Sherry said.
Such concerns are not unique to Burnsville. Amid the economic slump, many suburbs have tried find ways to encourage maintenance of vacant buildings or rental properties, while code inspectors lost jobs to budget cuts.
Richfield formed a task force in 2009 aimed at property maintenance. Among other things, that group recommended the city print code violation notices in English and Spanish. And it's not always about differing cultures: Later this month, the Mendota Heights City Council will consider an ordinance bearing down on the decaying look of commercial property.
Edward Cadman, an attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities, said cities can pick whichever method they want and are willing to pay for.
"With complaint-based [inspections] it's going to be cheaper," he said. But regular inspections can be a fairer way to address problems citywide.
"If it's a little more uniform and doesn't depend on whether your next-door neighbor is interested in ratting you out on your dandelions, maybe it's a little less toxic," Cadman said.
Paying for inspections
In 2010, Burnsville started asking volunteers for help with "friendly reminders" about code violations. Budget cuts the previous two years had included a seasonal worker and administrative support focused on code enforcement.
Volunteers canvassed neighborhoods and left stickers on improperly stored trash cans, prompting some errant can owners to drag them back behind a fence or in the garage.
But that's just one type of violation.
Code enforcement officer Ron Anderson and his part-time, seasonal assistant opened 1,510 new code violation cases 2011, resulting in 3,233 inspections and 1,526 letters to residents.
A person notified of a code violation has 10 days to fix the problem, another 10-day notice and then a final seven-day notice before the inspector issues a citation.
That process would stay the same when the city switches to an inspection-based system. And complaints from residents would still be a valid way to trigger inspections.
Burnsville plans to use inspection fees charged to those who violate code to pay for an inspector, preferably on contract rather than added to the city staff, to do the work.
Bill Clarke, a Burnsville resident, is pleased by the city emphasis on upkeep but also skeptical that it will work.
"It's very frustrating to me because I work hard to keep my yard up and this yard next to me is a disaster," Clarke said. "I know [city officials] want to do the right thing. It boils down to manpower and doing inspections. I don't think they're going to have the funds to do this."
Katie Humphrey 952-746-3286