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Sunnyside landscaping ordinance put on hold

It's back to the drawing board for the city of Sunnyside's proposed residential landscape ordinance.

The landscaping ordinance, as proposed at last night's city council meeting, would require owners of new homes or those pursuing an extensive remodel to have a minimal amount of bare dirt in open areas and install an automatic sprinkler system.

In addition, bark, mulch and wood shavings would only be able to be used as a supplement to plantings, not as a primary landscape design element.

The proposal also encourages homeowners to plant trees and shrubs in such a way that they do not interfere with power lines.

If a lawn is not tended to, the ordinance would call for the work to be done for them, then passing the cost on to the property owner.

In public comments last night during a hearing on the ordinance, former city council member Bengie Aquilar reminded council that a residential landscape ordinance was discussed and abandoned during her tenure on council.

She also called on the city do its part in beautification by addressing sidewalks that she said were in "horrible condition".

Sunnyside resident Don Outhet called the proposal "well intended but misguided".

Not only did public comment oppose the plan, but there was disagreement between council members on portions of the proposal.

Council member Bruce Epps said he was opposed to the idea and questioned how Sunnyside would be able to enforce a residential landscape ordinance.

Councilwoman Carol Stone questioned other language in the ordinance that seemed to indicate home owners would need to build fences at their own expense as a buffer from city right-of-way.

And, even council members in favor of the ordinance questioned the wording in some sections of the proposal.

"I see a definite need for a landscaping ordinance," said Councilwoman Theresa Hancock. But at the same time she noted that council needs to be careful about language in the proposal to make sure it applies to new construction and extensive remodels as originally intended.

Though City Manager Bob Stockwell said the intent of the proposal is focused on new home construction and extensive remodels, council found wording that seemed to indicate those buying existing homes could be impacted as well.

Apparently, such was the case this past July when the Sunnyside Planning Commission expressed concern that forcing new sprinkler systems on existing homes could negatively impact housing prices in the city.

Stockwell said the ordinance is needed as a way to protect neighborhoods from a property owner or property owners who allow weeds to grow or do not keep up their lawns.

Even so, Mayor Ed Prilucik took issue with three specific elements in the proposal that he felt were overly restrictive, in terms of what percentage of rock or stone covering home owners could use for the open areas of their property.

"It's too specific," Prilucik said. "Let them (the home owners) tell us what they want to do with their lawns."

The one area of agreement council did reach on the proposed ordinance was to send it back to staff to address areas of concern, then return it for a second public hearing.

If approved, the ordinance would carry the same enforcement standards as other city nuisance ordinances. For the first offense, a fee of $30 would be imposed for each day each violation remains uncorrected, up to a maximum of $2,400 for each violation. Under the city's commercial landscape ordinance already on the books, each violation is considered a misdemeanor, punishable with a fine up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail.

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