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City: Off with your hedge!

You can't miss it. The sign is sprawled across a hedge on 22nd Avenue N, one of the city's busiest thoroughfares.

"Censored," read 4-inch black letters.

The viburnum hedge, 10 feet tall at its highest point, is what is being censored, contend Jim and Debbie Shanklin.

They have undertaken a three-year city codes fight to defend what they believe to be their right to maintain the hedge at whatever height they choose.

"I'm not giving up my property rights,'' Jim Shanklin said.

City codes limit hedges to 6 feet on major streets, 5 on other streets. Inspectors cited the Shanklins for a violation. When the hedge wasn't lowered, the city fined the couple. At one point, $3,850 worth of fines had accumulated, according to county records.

Shanklin said Friday he persuaded a court to block the levies. In September, a judge dismissed one hedge violation. But more court action is pending.

Saying he won't give up the fight, Shanklin has put up Web sites and is arguing with city government about the sign, which officials also say violates city codes. It is 29 feet long by 4 feet high, he said.

The city isn't giving up, either.

Sally Eichler, codes compliance director, said she can understand Shanklin's perspective - but that rules are rules.

"He's been found in violation of the code. We have to continue to pursue it,'' Eichler said.

The Greater Woodlawn Neighborhood Association has taken no position on Shanklin's battle, said Mo Eppley, who has been the group's president for about as long as the hedge has been an issue.

And no one has approached her directly about it one way or another, Eppley said.

Shanklin, who said he let the hedge grow as a buffer against street noise and debris falling or thrown from vehicles, said he gets e-mails about the issue. Virtually all support him, he said.

And residents across 22nd Avenue have signs in their yards backing up their neighbor.

"I love him. He's my hero. He's fighting for what he believes in,'' said Carrie Jelaso.

Property rights are no small issue, Eichler said. But the ordinances governing hedges, walls and fences apply to everyone, she said.

"I know we're asking other people all over the city to comply with the sign, hedge and wall ordinance on a daily basis. So I don't really don't know how we can exempt this gentleman,'' Eichler said.