The arrival of spring brings the sight of residents toiling in theiryards to achieve picture-perfect lawns.

So it was a strange imagewhen a resident clutching a prickly cluster of 5-foot-tall weeds stood at Monday's meeting of the Town Council.

"This is what lives next to me," said Clare Morton, holding up the weeds with a gloved hand.

Morton plucked the plant from a lot next to her South Main Street home. A condemned house, vacant since last summer, sits on the lot, which is owned by Summerwood Inc., a developer in Lutherville, Baltimore County.

And though much of the parcel was mowed recently after the company received warnings from the town office, Morton charged that the council has paid little attention to overgrown lots.

"That's a trash heap next to my house," she said.

Apparently the council members wanted to show they're serious about the war on weeds, because they took a whack at violators by strengthening Mount Airy's weed ordinance Monday.

The council upped the cost the town charges for sending its workers to tame weeds and grass on privately owned lots. The town now will charge an hourly rate of $35, with a $50 minimum.

"We're not in the grass-cutting business," said Councilman Marcum Nance. "We don't have to be competitive inour pricing."

The town's weed ordinance requires grass and weeds on lots to be kept less than 1 foot tall.

Violators are sent a notice ordering that the grass be cut. If the lot is not cut, a town worker is sent to do the job. The town charges a fee based on the employee's hourly rate, plus 10 percent.

However that fee often is a nominal one -- say, $10, Nancesaid -- leading the council to worry that some people would simply ignore the written warnings and sit back andawait a reasonably priced lawn job.

"We need to give them a warning that this is an expensive way to get their lawn cut," Nance said.

What Monday's action revealed is the ineffectiveness of the town'sweed ordinance. Town code includes a $25 fine for property owners who let their lots exceed the 1-foot limit.

Typically, the fine is assessed after several written warnings and one town-administered cutting.

But council members said the problem with the fine is that itis not easy to collect.

Council President R. Delaine Hobbs recounted a dispute the town had with a property owner for 10 years before a judge ordered the owner to cut the grass.

Unsightly appearance is just part of the problem posed by overgrown yards, council members said. For one, uncontrolled weeds on lots near intersections and driveways can block a motorist's view and create traffic hazards.

Unruly grass also provides habitats for rats, snakes and other creatures that are unwelcome in residential areas.

After Monday's meeting, Morton commended the council's action but said she didn't think it went far enough.

"I think it should have been $100 minimum," she said.

Said Margaret Neff, who lives two doors from the Summerwood parcel, "My boys cut grass, and they charge up to $50."

The problem with weeds and overgrown grass on private lots arises each year about this time, though Nance said violators usually number no more than about a dozen.

"It's an inconvenience the town doesn't need," Nance said yesterday. "I think the bill (the town sends) has to be an indication that we are displeased."

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