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Friday, Nov. 30, 2012

Olathe to crack down on encroachment into city green space

Special to The Star

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Olathe wants its residents to show a little respect when it comes to property lines.

The city is embarking on a new encroachment policy, which the City Council expects to vote on Tuesday.

If passed, the new policy will target all homeowners who are unlawfully encroaching on city green space past their own property line with things that might include yard waste, fences, gardens or playground equipment.

Under the proposal, the city would mail letter in the spring to all 2,000 residents whose properties touch city green space, reminding them that encroachment is illegal.

Then the parks and recreation department would look at aerial photos to determine exactly which of those 2,000 properties are encroaching on city green space. Those homeowners would then receive another notice giving them 30 days to take care of the problem.

After another warning, the next step would be legal action, said Kevin Corbett, the director of the city’s parks and recreation department.

Since many properties in Olathe touch public areas with streams or walking trails, Corbett feels the new policy is essential. Encroachment directly affects the city’s ecological system, he pointed out. Trash and waste can harm waterways. Reducing the vegetative buffer to a stream could lead to erosion. Those issues alone could cost taxpayers a lot of money to fix, he said.

Right now, the city doesn’t have a direct way of addressing encroachment. It depends on calls from concerned neighbors or reports from city officials who happen to stumble upon the problem.

“It takes a lot of our time to manage this situation complaint by complaint, and by the time we do find out, the damage is already done,” Corbett said. “This new policy will not only help solve the problem now, but it could prevent it from happening significantly in the future. It’s all about communication and education.”

He estimates that about 150 Olathe homes are encroaching on public green space.

In some cases, he said, residents may have inherited the problem from previous homeowners without realizing it.

Corbett said the city is willing to make exceptions in rare cases. For instance, if encroachment is complex, such as a pool deck or driveway sticking outside property lines, the city might be willing to sell the land to the property owner.

The city would also consider giving property owners more time to take care of an encroachment, if necessary.

“We’re not out to get anyone or be mean. We just want to make things right,” Corbett said.

When he approached the city council on the issue at its last meeting, the governing body seemed to agree it was time for a clear policy on the subject.

“This is a tough area,” Councilwoman Marge Vogt said at the meeting. “It’s not easy when we have to discipline residents, but I think it is really important to protect city property.”

Councilman Jim Terrones agreed.

“As citizens we need to be responsible and know the city codes,” he added.

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