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In the weeds: Tall grass a safety risk, says Newmarket resident

Proposed clean yards bylaw to allow town to deal with complaints quickly
Oct. 23, 2017
By Teresa Latchford

Heather Cairns-Mills had a close call she doesn't want to repeat.

The Park Avenue resident was about to turn right into her driveway when a small toddler appeared out of know where, crossing right in the path of her vehicle. She reacted by slamming on the brakes and was quick enough to avoid a tragedy, but she wouldn't want to test her luck a second time.

"The grass on my neighbour's boulevard was about four feet high and it completely blocked my view of the sidewalk," she said. "I almost hit that little girl."

The mother was managing a stroller, but was quick enough to get hold of her daughter and pull her back from the driveway.

Cairns-Mills also has nurses and personal support workers in and out of her home multiple times a day caring for her husband Kevin Mills, who is a quadriplegic, and they can't see when exiting the driveway.

The couple have tried to get the neighbour to cut the grass and have complained to the Town of Newmarket on multiple occasions, but the safety issue keeps reoccurring.

"It's not about how the grass looks," she said. "It really is a serious health and safety concern because the long grass blocks all site lines."

However, a solution is in the works as the town is proposing a new clean yards bylaw. Residents, including Cairns-Mills, got a peek at the new rules that if passed, would bring changes that allow town staff to deal with health and safety issues like Cairns-Mills is experiencing, more quickly, according to municipal enforcement supervisor Lesley Long.

"There is nothing in our current property standard bylaws that allows us to enforce upkeep of boulevards (the piece of property between the sidewalk and street) but most residents just upkeep it," she said. "This new standalone bylaw would allow us to do more to ensure upkeep."

For example, if a resident calls to complain about overgrown grass on a neighbouring property, current rules require the town to give notice and wait weeks before cutting the grass itself and charging it back to the property taxes. The new rules would eliminate that wait time if a health and safety issue surfaces.

The town has received 90 calls this year alone pertaining to long grass.

"The majority of the time residents comply without us issuing a ticket," Long said. "But in some cases things need to be dealt with quickly to avoid any risk to residents."

The town is seeing more people purchasing properties and not living in the homes, meaning some are not regularly maintained and another common complaint is debris on front lawns. 

The bylaw defines debris as broken or unlicensed vehicles, boats and mechanical equipment, spare parts, tires, furnaces, water and fuel tanks, furniture, glassware, plastic, cans, garden refuse, grass clippings, trees and branches, earth or fill, animal feces, old appliances and anything that could be a fire, health or accident hazard.

Also proposed are additions to the property standards bylaw including interior and exterior mould as well as defined heritage home standards.

Both proposals will be discussed at the Nov. 6 committee meeting.