Inquirer: Churches aren't exempt, but perennial growth is

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 1, 2013 

An unsightly and intrusive as it might be, "woody perennial growth" isn't against city ordinances, but the rest of this former church's grounds is well kept.

MIKE OWEN — mowen@ledger-enquirer.com

Today we'll have a civics lesson here at Inquirer University, a member of the Overgrown Ivy League. The question before us today, class, is whether there is an Establishment Clause in the city code?

More specifically, can the city tell a church to clean up its act?

Today's lesson stems from a phone call from a Concerned Reader who is tired of the overgrowth behind a north Columbus church encroaching on her and her neighbors' yards.

The church in question, at 5304 Hurst Drive, just off 54th Street near River Road, started out as a United Methodist church, then it became an Assembly of God church, which operated a rehab center in a small building out back, I was informed.

The property is now unused, apparently, because there's no pithy message on the glass-encased sign board out front, and if there was a preacher employed at the church, you know that would never be the case.

According to city records, the property in now owned by Teen Challenge of Florida Inc., presumably an arm of Teen Challenge International, which is a drug rehab organization founded by a Pennsylvania Pentecostal preacher.

The unusual thing about this empty property is that its front and side grounds are well maintained, but the back is a jungle with head-high weeds, small trees and underbrush choking the area.

Our Concerned Reader called the city and was told nothing could be done because the city can't tell churches what to do.

That didn't sound right, and a call to Special Enforcement confirmed that neither churches nor nonprofits get a free ride (as they do in the property tax department).

"The law applies the same to any property owner," said Special Enforcement Officer Brandt Poole.

The bad news for the adjacent property owners, Poole reported, is that the city ordinance concerning unruly plant growth applies only to grass and weeds, not to "woody perennial growth," which is apparently what we're looking at on Hurst Drive.

That said, a property owner can cut back any growth that comes onto his or her property from the adjacent property, Poole said.

Update

I received two emails concerning last week's column about the large tree on the small house in Colonial Park, or as it's known here, Not Oakland Park.

The man who owned the house died and, not long after, the tree fell on it.

Then it (the house, not the tree) slowly drifted through the foreclosure process.

To make a long story short, a local Realtor sold the house for the Veterans Administration, which had taken ownership.

The former owner was a veteran.

The new owner closed on the property in the last week or two and will soon address the tree and the house, no doubt in that order, the real estate guy assured me.

As for the former owner, the late Patrick Mercan, another reader wrote:

"He worked at MCSD as an HVAC tech and was a good man who took care of his home and his animals and found time to mentor the kids in our community. He was a kind person who was friendly to everyone he met. He is also missed dearly."

Rest in peace, Mr. Mercan, and thank you for your service to our country.

Seen something that needs attention?

Contact me at 706-571-8570 or mowen@ledger-enquirer.com.

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