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Task force recommends relaxing codes

Got a clothes line in your yard? A basketball goal out front? A high hedge?

You may be violating city codes. But there's good news: City leaders are thinking about cutting you and your neighbors some slack.

Code Compliance supervisors no longer will sweat issues such as unpermitted basketball goals, clothes lines and flag poles if a task force reviewing the city's development regulations has its way.

Even residents whose walls, hedges or fences are too tall, a regulation that this year ensnared Mayor David Fischer, would slide by if their neighbors do not object.

The idea is to update the rules and remove minor violations that take up inspectors' time, antagonize residents and fail to accomplish much.

"It's just prioritizing a variety of issues," Steve Wolochowicz, director of permitting and community codes services, said of the proposed changes.

"It's making people have a little more flexibility with what they can do with their property, but it's not throwing away the rule book," he said.

Nearly seven months ago, the city began a citywide building and safety codes sweep, and some of violations that investigators found are those that may be revised. Fischer, for instance, was among dozens of residents cited for having walls that are too tall.

Fischer applied for a variance for his wall, but city officials agreed to hold off taking any action until the review was completed. The task force evaluating the codes included business, neighborhood and government representatives. Their suggestions will be reviewed by City Council members next week.

Not all of the proposals involve relaxing the regulations. The committee wants the city to require all properties with front yard parking to have a driveway made of an "approved surface," such as concrete, within five years. The requirement would affect an estimated 200 to 500 properties citywide.

One surface currently approved for parking areas is mulch. The committee wants to bar mulch parking areas.

Other proposals include allowing regulations for certain "accessory structures" near lot lines. Examples include light poles, basketball goals, flag poles, clothes lines and patio lights. Permits would continue to be required for sheds, tree houses and play houses.

The committee also proposed tightening regulations on the amount of impervious surface, such as asphalt or concrete, allowed on residential lots. The idea is to encourage more vegetation.

Jon Clarke, a former president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, served as chairman of the codes task force. He doubted the changes would have a dramatic impact on the appearance of the city's neighborhoods.

"What we tried to do is eliminate some of those things that, the perception was, were trivial," Clarke said. "It takes out some of the obscure kinds of things or the kinds of things that people object to."