Neighborhood Watched 

Germantown is starting to show its age. Gutters are beginning to sag. Many driveways are etched with fine lines. And, like any former pretty young thing, the suburb is thinking about having a little work done.

The city of Germantown held a public hearing last week on controversial changes to the ordinance that deals with property maintenance and neighborhood preservation.

"Many of the homes are beginning to hit the 25- to 30-year mark where they can benefit from additional maintenance," said Germantown mayor Sharon Goldsworthy. "If there's not support for reinvestment into the homes, neighborhoods can go into decline, and it's difficult to reverse that."

She said the ordinance -- which includes regulations on fences, grass height, trash, and holiday decorations, among other things -- is meant to give the city staff a tool to deal with "problem properties."

"We're trying to head off distressing developments in neighborhoods so that they retain their value," she said.

But some residents called the new ordinance "draconian," "an Orwellian work of fiction," and "a step too far."

Before the meeting, the standing-room-only crowd bitch-chatted about the proposed new ordinance: They could be considered nuisances by leaving their lights on to keep raccoons away. Or the city could hypothetically not pick up their trash and then hold them responsible for it.

As the hearing started, it became apparent that many of the residents there thought the ordinance was, at best, confusing, and at worst, completely absurd. Rules about trash, garage doors, and house numbers topped the citizens' complaints.

The ordinance says that trash cans must not be visible from the street "except when placed for collection."

But the ordinance also says "garbage and refuse containers shall not be placed in their collection location before 6 p.m. of the day prior to the regularly scheduled collection day and shall be returned to their storage location no later than 8 a.m. the day following the collection."

That might not be so onerous with regular household refuse, but in a city where the universal hobby is yardwork, the issue gets a little thorny.

Rodney Strop, chair of Germantown's Senior Citizens Advisory Commission, said he had gotten several calls from citizens complaining about the proposed trash regulations. One woman told him she had a lawn service on the weekends, but her garbage pickup was on Thursday. She had no way of getting heavy bags of grass or leaves to the curb, short of calling the service to come out Wednesday night.

One resident, Larry Austin, suggested that the suburb grow old gracefully. Austin has lived in his Germantown home for 32 years. "I may be more wrinkled and I have less hair than I did when I moved in, but I don't think I'm worth less. I think I've matured," he said. "I watched the prices of homes in my neighborhood ... and I don't think our property values are in any jeopardy right now. With this ordinance, you don't want to show any signs of life. You can't open your garage door; you have to sneak your trash out at night; you can have a carport, but you can't put anything in it."

The mayor and board of alderman will discuss the proposed ordinance in a scheduled work session on June 6th. The ordinance has passed a second reading, but the date for its third, and final, reading has not yet been set. Until then, the city's makeover will have to wait.

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