Saturday, October 24, 2015

Memphis Mow-to-own Program Ordinance Passes First Reading in City Council
June 15, 2015 - Terrance Weatherby mows the lawn next to his house Golden Avenue Monday morning to keep vermin away and vegetation under control. Weatherby would not be eligible for the new mow-to-own program, however, as the ordinance is written. (Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal)

By Linda A. Moore of The Commercial Appeal
Oct. 20, 2015

Not long after Memphis City Councilman Berlin Boyd pitched the idea of a mow-to-own program for the city, Dawn Kinard, administrator of the Shelby County Land Bank, posted a sign at the land bank office.

Citizens, many who had been cutting neighboring vacant lots for years, heard about the proposed program and wanted to apply.

"I was running up front every two or three days with somebody wanting to inquire about that program," Kinard said.

The wait will soon be over.

On Tuesday the Memphis City Council approved on first reading the ordinance that authorizes the creation of the city's mow-to-own program. It must be approved on two more readings.

The ordinance allows the owners of a property that adjoins a vacant lot owned by the city or Shelby County to mow that government-owned property and eventually take ownership.

The minimum cost for eligible lots is $500 and the maximum is $10,000.

Program participants, individuals or nonprofit organizations, pay an administrative fee of $175 and will be credited at a rate of $25 a cut for three years, or a maximum of $1,350.

If the property's cost exceeds that amount the participant pays the difference.

Code enforcement officers will monitor their progress and the participants will also be required to provide periodic pictures of their work.

Boyd wants to have the program up and running by January.

"So in essence, we're hoping this will reduce the city and county's cost of maintaining these properties, it will actually take a nontaxable property and put it back on the city and county tax rolls and it will actually create and put pride back in some of these neighborhoods," Boyd told the public works and transportation committee.

The city and county together spend about $8 million annually to cut and maintain empty properties.

There are 3,500 vacant lots in the county land bank and 97 percent are inside the city, Kinard said. The city also owns about 200 lots, she said.

"A lot of times people are already cutting these lots and they just don't know who owns them," she said. "I think it's just another tool to help."

An eligible property owned by the county would be gifted to the city for the program. The city will then deed the property to the participant when the maintenance agreement is fulfilled.

Councilman Bill Boyd wanted to know if people who did maintenance but dropped out of the program would be allowed to keep their credits if they wanted to re-enter the program.

"We believe that if you don't fulfill that agreement, then those credits terminate if you don't take it to completion," said Carter Gray, county attorney, a member of Boyd's mow-to-own committee.

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About Linda A. Moore
Linda A. Moore is part of the InforMemphis team at The Commercial Appeal. She focuses on local government and covers Shelby County government.
@LindaAnita 901-529-2702

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