The Cumberland County Health and Safety Standards Board took no action on complaints against two properties, saying the conditions of the property did not rise to the level of impacting health or safety of neighbors.
But at least one board member expressed frustration with the limits of the county’s property standards.
“I’d like to see Cumberland County take the same codes the city of Crossville’s got,” said Tom Isham. “They’re a lot stricter. If you let your grass get that (two feet) high, they’ll send you a letter.”
The city’s codes cover issues of stagnant water, weeds and grass, overgrown lots, dead animals, sanitation and health nuisances, cleaning up former building sites, and more.
Such a change would require action by the county commission. And enforcement would be a concern, added County Attorney Philip Burnett.
The county first established its property standards board in 2005 to address vacant or dilapidated properties that posed a health or safety hazard to the community. But they were not able to take care of abandoned trailers or other concerns.
In 2019, the county commission expanded the scope of what constituted a health and safety issue to include allowing debris and garbage to accumulate near homes. That vote also added trailers to the definition of structures covered.
The debris and garbage would have to be significant, according to the resolution approved by the county, causing foul odors to a neighboring property; attracting flies, rats, nuisance animals or other vermin; or the likelihood of substances being allowed to pollute groundwater or local streams.
Burnett said the committee was charged with determining when situations rise to the level of endangering the health, safety or welfare of neighboring properties.
Joe Koester said expanding the property standards could pose challenges in the rural parts of the community.
The committee tabled action on the two active complaints before it: a home near Linger Lake and another on Grace Hill Dr.
At Linger Lake, Hyder said there had been efforts to clean up the yard and cut back overgrown wisteria. Garbage had been taken away and, though outside the purview of the committee, siding and windows replaced on the home.
“It did look better,” Hyder said. “The pool is the only thing, and it was still catching rainwater.”
The property does include an old pool which may still be catching rainwater. Though it is fenced and not easily accessible due to the wisteria growth, Isham said it could become a breeding ground for mosquitos, which can carry disease.
Burnett said that would be something within the board’s ability to address.
But the property has no trespassing signs, limiting the ability of the committee to view water in the pool. Also, it might be several months before mosquitos are a concern.
“Are you going to take such invasive actions to get on the property? I think you have to determine a line as far as how much effort you’re going to take to get into someone’s property,” he said.
He suggested continuing to communicate with the property owners to address that concern in the future.
Joe Sherrill, 6th District commissioner, asked why the committee was involved in the complaint.
“Was it a health and safety concern? What was it that was driving the complaint?” he asked.
Burnett said the committee needed to remember their purpose is protecting health and safety, not aesthetics.
“We always walk that line of is this a safety hazard or does it just not look good? If it just doesn’t look good, there’s not much you can do about that,” he said.
At Grace Hill, the committee had noticed the property was cleaned up in the weeks following the initial complaint in August, but there was starting to be more stuff stacked around the home.
Koester said, “It’s a mess, but I don’t know that it meets the criteria.”
Many of the items are stacked on a porch, not the ground. An inoperable car had been removed.
Koester suggested continuing to monitor the property.
A complaint had been issued for a property on Lantana Rd., but it did not have the required three signatures.
Isham said he’d been contacted by a property owner in a previous complaint, but the complaints were outside the board’s scope. That property, however, was located in a neighborhood governed by property owner association regulations.
“The POAs, they need to step up,” Isham said.
Those standards go beyond the standards the county has in place primarily to protect property values and community aesthetics.
“They have more authority,” Burnett said.