Palm Coast government’s quarter-century-old practice of mowing the rights of way in front of vacant lots mostly at its own expense may be about to end. The Palm Coast City Council today agrees that the responsibility should shift to the property owners.
Under a proposed model that will be presented to the council soon, property owners will have a choice. They could either assume the responsibility and cost of the mowing themselves, or they could pay the city a fee to do it. The fee would have to be determined.
The mowing of rights of way is essential to the city’s stormwater system, which is furrowed by swales. Swales serve as soaking sponges for excess water, slowly seeping runoffs into the ground and down to the aquifer. Overgrown swales impede the process, cause water to back up onto neighboring swales or flood properties and streets. So swale maintenance is essential. Homeowners and tenants at developed properties are responsible for mowing their own grass and the rights of way in front of their property. Owners of vacant lots are not.
The council is looking to end the practice of what it considers to be a free service to property owners because it is part of a larger reconfiguration of the city’s stormwater fees. The current fee is $22.27 a month for a typical single family house. It’s almost double what it was in 2018. But it’s still not nearly enough to pay for the city’s mounting backlog of stormwater infrastructure repairs and the increasing pressures on its swale crews to rebuild and maintain the network.
In February, a stormwater study pointed to fees that could possibly reach $542 a year per property owner by 2027. The cost could be higher than what some property owners pay in city property taxes. Council members were taken aback. They have been looking for ways to ease such a steep increase. One of those ways is to reduce the city’s cost of mowing vacant lots’ rights of way, a responsibility shouldered by the city’s public works department.
There’s a caveat, as the city’s Carl Cote, director of the stormwater engineering department, cautioned: “The existing lot owners are paying 74 percent of that stormwater fee,” he said of owners of vacant lots, “and they may claim that they’re paying for maintenance to the stormwater system because we do maintain improved lots by [cleaning] up pipes under driveways and things like that of the maintained lot, there may be some argument there.”
City Council member Ed Danko says the threat of legal action should not stop the city: “For anyone to come in and say I’m going to sue the city because you’re overcharging me for mowing this lot,” he said, “most people aren’t going to make that kind of effort or spend that kind of money. We may get one case. And my feeling is, we shouldn’t be afraid to go to court if we’re right. We shouldn’t hide because they may sue us.”
There are 10,072 vacant parcels in the city. They’re diminishing by the day as they get developed. Once the property is developed and a certificate of occupancy is issued, then the responsibility for mowing rights of way shifts to the new owner, or tenant.
“These lots should be maintained by the owners and if they’re not maintaining them, code enforcement needs to penalize them in the same way that they would other lot owners,” Council member Theresa Pontieri said, with a caution about the legalities of the method through which the lot owners would pay.
Changing methods is not as simple as a council vote. The city would have to change the city’s ordinance to reflect the new responsibility. All lots would have to maintain right-of-way areas adjacent to their properties. If the property owner doesn’t assume the responsibility, code enforcement would issue fines–and mow. The city would have more authority to penalize vacant property owners than it would homesteaded property owners.
“It’s a little bit different on vacant lots because vacant lots don’t have the homestead exemption,” Neysa Borkert, the city attorney, said. “So the city could place a lien on that property and subsequently foreclose on that lien because it’s not a homesteaded property. So there is a little more teeth there than with a homesteaded property, where you can’t foreclose on the lien and you have to wait until it’s sold, and then you have to wait to see if there’s any money left over to to pay that.”
The city could also do a special assessment–a special tax or fee. But the city would have to hire a consultant to figure out what the assessments should be, based on vacant lots’ frontage.
Danko, Pontieri and Council member Cathy Heighter are more interested in going the route of code enforcement, precluding the imposition of a fee. In other words, extend current rules to all property owners. Code enforcement currently keeps an eye on lawns around the city. When a property owner hasn’t mowed in a few weeks, a warning–which the city calls a “courtesy notice”–is posted on the owner’s garage door. The notices get more stern from there, with fines kicking in, then a summoning before the city’s code enforcement board.
“To me it seems like we’re going to be spending a lot of time and possibly taxpayer dollars trying to recover or trying to impose a fee on lots that are getting littler by the year, or fewer I should say,” Pontieri said, “rather than saying Look, you’re the homeowner, you need to maintain your lot. If you don’t, we’re going to fine you because it’s not homesteaded, we will enforce the lien accordingly if you don’t pay it. So I think going the route of making the homeowner or the property owner maintain the property and then using code enforcement to enforce is the better.”
Mayor David Alfin is concerned about the number of lots that would require attention: “I’m just again putting myself in the shoes of code enforcement,” he said. “I’m thinking you need a small army” to keep an eye on 10,000 lots. But, he added, “That may be the right way to go. I just have to I have to digest it.”
Danko doesn’t oppose the code enforcement approach, but he wants an added option: property owners should have the ability to pay the city to do the job.
“If it was just code enforcement, we’ll find ourselves sending out a lot of notices because you can’t put them on the lot,” Danko said. “You’re going to have to mail them to Connecticut or California or wherever they’re going to have time to reply.” Most people, he said, would be happy to pay the city $40 or $60 a year not to deal with the hassle.
Borkert summed it up as a hybrid approach. Alfin said there is an existing model at Grand Haven, though the comparison has limits: most property owners at Grand Haven are in their homes. (When Danko described the hybrid approach as a “three-legged stool,” gently ribbing the mayor, Alfin immediately reacted: “I’m not going there,” a wink to the minor fiasco last August, when Alfin used the cartoon character Garfield, propped up on a three-legged stool, to defend higher taxes as a way to pay for the city’s quality of life.)
The council tasked City Manager Denise Bevan with working up the details of that hybrid approach before the council makes a decision.
Gary Kunnas says
About time why should the tax payers pay for that ? It’s the land owners responsibility to maintain the land.
Tina olive says
10,000 lots wow… if your a landscape co. or just a mowing company I would think this would be a gold mine idea….Find out who owns these plots and while your ALREADY in the neighborhood mowing …..you drive down the street to the swail/Lots…..literally make 1 swipe on mower maybe 2 swipes and you move to the next customer…..Wonder how many Mowing company’s already mow yards that are next door or very close to a lot that needs a swail cut? …..Your already there, make some extra money……
Yes, maintaining your property is your responsibility. However, the swale, the road and anything in that 40′ wide strip is city property. It does not belong to the adjacent property owner. The city should be providing the maintenance on their property no matter where it is located.
If anything make them maintain and clear the actual lots of the undergrowth and be tesonspible for the 40 inches. I have a house on my lot. The city owns that strip. I’m still responsible for mowing it as I am my property. If I stopped either I would have a notice on my door. Why should others be treated differently
How tough would it be to add a separate line item for taxation to vacant lot for the property taxes. I’d bet the ROW maintenance costs have been collected against every property owner since Palm Coast was established as a city for house #1 built here ? They had ordinances drawn up, this didn’t get past them either.
Here’s the justification:
“The mowing of rights of way is essential to the city’s stormwater system, which is furrowed by swales. Swales serve as soaking sponges for excess water, slowly seeping runoffs into the ground and down to the aquifer. Overgrown swales impede the process, cause water to back up onto neighboring swales or seep onto properties and streets. So swale maintenance is essential. Homeowners and tenants at developed properties are responsible for mowing their own grass and the rights of way in front of their property. Owners of vacant lots are not.”
Facts about the swales, the water flows thru them. that water which does not runoff, then accumulates in the deeper swales as a puddling pool. That excess standing water then has to be absorbed into the ground. I mean just look at the photo, the swale isn’t level with developed properties to continue to flow. I’d argue/bet/debate that the swale there never drained completely. Just me, they’ve been collecting this for decades, good at taking the money, paid themselves well and now decades later, the swales need attention, but that tax revenue is long gone. So the claim is that the city has maintained it all this time, even though any maintenance was managed by exception for maintenance.
My swale has never been empty of water since I moved to this house six years ago. Water doesn’t run uphill is one problem, the other problem is that all kinds of crud gets stuck in the culvert under the driveway and blocks flow. The city workers told me it’s too expensive to fix. I think I should get to name the body of water in my front yard since it never leaves.
We already pay a storm water tax, how about code enforcement slapping a notice on the city’s door for the piss poor job they do in Not maintaining the swales. It took the city 2 years to respond to a request to have the swales cut on Boulder Rock Dr. When I contacted the city the response was this is not NY the water drains different here…well I have lived here for 38 years and it just keeps getting worse. Drive around during a rain storm and watch the swales fill up. Just look at the mess they created on Citation/Sesame in Seminole Woods, at least 6” of standing water and it’s still 4” from the catch basin. Gee I wonder why the mosquito population is so high……I used to love it here, not any more, time to go…..
So, now PC residents can expect to see over grown empty lots because of this decision. I sure have noticed all ready the city isn’t doing like they used to. Just like all the roads now, the lines in the roads have faded and you can hardly see the lines on the road anymore.
The City is letting our own city go down the tubes when it used to be well maintained but it no longer has that curb side appeal it once had.
Can the City explain why this has happened??????????
Celia Pugliese says
Well, city staff keep growing with many more chiefs at 6 figure pay who’s occupation is hire consultants to do their work…our hard earned ever raising taxes at work?
Lines in the road would be great. It would sure help our self driving cars. It may sound funny, but I’m serious.
Well, how timely this article is! We have owned the vacant, undeveloped lot adjacent to the lot where our home is for more than 10 years, purchasing it together with our home when we retired and moved here from out of state. For that entire time, the city mowing crews have mowed the swale of our vacant lot, and our lawn maintenance crew maintains the swale in front of our home along with all of the rest of our lawn. Well, just last week the city code enforcement officer issued me a notice of violation while I was away from the house because it has been a few weeks since the last time the city mowing crew came through to mow the swale of our vacant lot next door and the grass and weeds are growing taller than normal. As you can imagine, I was confused and you could say a little pissed off when I read the notice that had been posted on our garage door. When I called code enforcement and spoke with the officer who issued the notice, he said he was astounded that the city crews had been mowing that swale for the past 10 years because although our vacant lot is still undeveloped, according to the county property appraiser’s office it is attached and considered to be part of our home’s property and therefore we should have been responsible all these years for maintaining the swale, not the city! I don’t mow the yard myself, and am no longer upset now that the code enforcement officer has discussed this situation with me. In fact, I believe that swale will be mowed more often and kept in better condition if my paid lawn crew takes care of it instead of the city, but I wish I had been informed much sooner and that the city’s own employees would have been better trained to know what I am just finding out after having received a code violation notice..
The other issue that certainly cannot be dismissed is the fact that where I live, the water table is very high and many of the swales in our neighborhood including the swale for our vacant lot either has standing water or is soggy and too wet to be properly mowed. Time after time I have been informed by the city crews that they do their best but cannot properly mow some of the vacant lots’ swales due to the wheels of their mowing equipment getting bogged down in the swales, so if the city is going to put the burden of maintaining these swales on the owners of the vacant lots, consideration will need to be given to the owners of vacant lots when soggy conditions prevent the proper upkeep just like the city’s own mowing crews have to skip over these swales on many occasions. If code enforcement starts aggressively issuing violations to homeowners who are otherwise taking care of the swales except when unable to due to weather related conditions, then the city is going to have a lot of upset homeowners!
I put on my boots and weed whack our swale when the plants grow too high. We have cattails growing in some swales on our street
Sounds like a plan to me. Wish the city would take care of the swales on unoccupied property though.
Tim property owner says
Does this me I don’t have to pay the storm water fee anymore?
We have touched on this topic in an earlier article and I am still waiting for someone to provide lawful documentation that I am required to maintain city owned property that abuts a parcel of land I own. I received nothing laying out any such requirement when I purchased my house. You would think that such a requirement would show up in a title search as an encumbrance. And even if it did, where does it end? If they can mandate that we mow the grass/weeds in the ‘swale’ when will we be required to maintain the swale itself of the actual roadway. What’s next? My lot is bordered by a city park – do I have to mow the grass in the park? Please someone provide a copy of the ordinance requiring us to mow this city owned property.
As for “Damn the lawsuits Danko” not being worried if one or two folks sue the city, well I guess he has never heard of a class-action case.
Gayle Ford says
Just as other areas vacant lots are charged maintenance fees on their taxes
To include – fire paths- trees brush Ect- and mowing – why in the world does this panel not understand the simple principle- if you own it/ you maintain it
Exactly! “If you own it / maintain it.” The city owns the swale, they need to maintain it, not foist the maintenance off on an adjacent property owner.
Celia Pugliese says
The city does not own the right of way, the home owner owns it but the city has the right to use that is why is called “right of way” for infrastructure water and sewer pipping, power and phone lines installation and or maintenance of it! So the home owner is to mow the 15 feet or so of right of way in front of his/her home. Then why we resident home owners been paying all these years about 5 million or more a year to mow and after hurricane clean up the 15 feet or so of vacant lots? Probably originally because ITT marketing them lots wanted to make them more attractive to buyers probably? Well the times of ITT paying for some of their wonderful services for us is long gone over by 1998 or so…its time that each owner in Palm Coast pays what due.
Good! That’s fair. Hopefully the money collected for maintenance of those properties will be wisely spent on much needed projects and repairs. While they’re finally getting wise, what about the removal of dangerous overgrown or diseased trees?
Jay Tomm says
This is a scam. By fee’ing up, PC forcefully encourages holders of these lots to sell them to build more housing. And who’s buying them? Foreign LLC’s backed by who knows who’s money. Look at at the PA website. 1 LLC owns 140+ lots since 2020.
Land of no turn signals says says
About time what a great idea.
changing the rules in the middle of the game. typical government BS. Should only apply to new purchases not long time owners.
Dennis C Rathsam says
The city comes around in the summer maybe 1,s a month…During the fall, winter & spring they are invisable!!!!! I cut the grass around my house, and across the street so it doesnt bring snakes & ferile cats. If the absent lot owners who probly live out of town dont care about the swales. They are the cities responsablity! More talk, & no action! These folks are worried about grass, what about all the people parking in the swales overnight? Or the trucks parked in the driveway overnight? Wheres code inforcement? They ride by sometimes, but never at night. Not only do they park in the swales, they park on the grass in the middle of the street! Code inforcement is a joke. people getting payed to ride aroung & do nothing….I walk my dog, how is it I can see it? But it continues every night! We even have a moron who parks a cabin cruiser in his back yard….
Celia Pugliese says
Finally some fairness to the homesteaded residents taxpayers of Palm Coast. At least twice since 1991 I asked for this suggested solution properly described by councilwoman Pointieri (thank you), to the different city administrations with no success. One time former councilman Branquinho opposed it because he owned a vacant lot and he believed he paid enough taxes as is for being vacant on meeting video. My concern is the large tracks of land owned by investors developers will oppose this excellent proposal, maybe represented by a well known local lawyer. Mowing of a quarter acre lot is about $ 50 x 4 times a month in spring, summer and fall at least, then I figure just the right of way cost is 1/4 of that cost $13 x4 times a month totals 52 x 10 months (cause winter less growth) =$520 x 10,072 lots = 5,237,400 a year cost on the backs of the homesteaded resident that need those funds for road resurfacing, and storm water improvements, etc. This cost does not include the right of way clean up after hurricanes that residents homeowners do themselves and wait a month to be picked up with FEMA funds or have to pay to be hauled. Our HOA pays over 5,000 a year for the mowing of our right of ways and that is a very good low rate deal! We need the $5,237.400 to be paid by those vacant lot owners…if you own a vacant lot is because you already have a home and do it for investment…then why we homesteaded residents should pay for its right of way maintenance? No matter what city Carl Cote worries about, lets go the way of councilwoman Pointieri…Lets do not continue like with the caved in seawalls filling up the depths of our canals for navigation and displaying an eyesore to all while affecting the adjacent property values. Lets have code enforcement to enforce the repairs as now city has drones and the excuse for the inspector not being able to see from the street is not longer valid. Use the city drones to fly the complaint address and address the violation to be resolved. No more excuses for vacant lots lack of maintenance or caved in seawalls. Great editorial Pierre as usual!
Selective enforcement says
Code enforcement will be selective in enforcement as they are now. Example? A FCSO supervisor on Sloganeer Trail, I wont name the exact address, illegally parks his large RV in his backyard behind a white gate. The RV is clearly visible from the street but code enforcement has never done a thing about it despite it always being there. Selective enforcement !!
Nephew Of Uncle Sam says
If it’s behind the fence leave it alone. I think if a homeowner has room in the driveway they should be able to park in their driveway if they want, especially any trailer under 20 feet in length. Just another rule left over from a bunch of old biddies.
Bro, when has Palm Coast mowed right of ways in residential neighborhoods? I think they should focus more energy fixing roads.
Looks like Palm Coast residents need to start complaining about the crumbling roads, and overgrown grass on city streets, litter in public swales and canals, overgrown city bushes that block sidewalks and trails since this mayor has come into office.
Yes, I also noticed since this mayor conned his high salary when the PC taxpayers said no. Alfin hasn’t done one thing to improve the City of PC, it is time to make him a one term mayor for good.
I’m curious if the city charges the land owner of any residential undeveloped lot the storm water fee like they charge the rest of the home owners. I believe the storm water fee on everyone’s utility bill is going up to like over $46.00 a month. The reason I read was because of the high cost of maintenance of the swales. So lets do some quick math. 10,000 undeveloped lots at $46.00 a month per lot, that comes to $5,520,000.00 a year to the city. If this is true add that to the developed lots and I’ll bet the city still can’t get the swales to work the way they are suppose to. JMO.
John Flannery says
Just read in another article that a consultant (I believe) stated swales are “aesthetic” and have a low priority.
That’s a misrepresentation of what was said; Carl Cote referred to the fifth priority only as having aesthetic components that are not essential to the functionality if the system, but all other options or priorities are considered essential.
Yes they do
Wow! Where I went to school $46.00 times 10,000 lots is $46o,000. Please explain your math and show your work.
I’m not sure where you went to school either.
Swale charge is monthly so here you go.
12 month a year
Total $552.00 a year per lot
x 10,000 lots
Total $5,552.000.00 a year.
My bad! Somehow I got caught up in a $46 annual fee. Sorry for the error.
I think that TR is correct. 46×12=552. ($46/month x 12 months=$552/ year. $552 x 10000 lots=$5,520,000.
I could be wrong, but that is how I believe TR arrived at the amount he noted.
You are telling me as a property owner I am taking care of my property and ALSO paying for people to be lazy and not take care of the property THEY OWN? If Palm Coast if mowing land they dint own then they can swing by and mow my grass as well. Just because I am present on my property I am being punished. You all are a joke.
The city is mowing the right of way for the road that you drive on. Property owners didn’t put that grass there , the city did when it put the road in , so they should maintain it till a house is built.
Why would it change just because a house in on an adjoining property? The city still owns the swale and road.
When I bought my house back in 1997, I had to sign a piece of paper agreeing to maintain the easement property in front of and on the side of my house. (I live on a corner lot) I’m assuming all residence that own their homes have the same agreement.
The swale and road are not easements on your property as the 5′ utility easement is that boarders all sides of your lot. The swale and road are city property. Look at your survey.
Chuck Wagon says
And if you lived anywhere else in America, you always maintained the grass up to the edge of the road. Even though whatever town you lived in owned the first 10 or more feet of it. If there were no swale and it were curb and gutter with a sidewalk you would still be responsible to mow to the edge of the road, even the other side of the sidewalk.
jeffery c. seib says
The overall condition of Palm Coast certainly has deteriorated in the last few years while the population has burst at the seams. With all the new revenue coming from new taxpayers we all should be living in the lap of luxury. Whenever city departments come up with fiscal plans, that always includes a tax, or in the case of stormwater, a fee increase from us. What they need to do is live within their means, as we all do. For our neighborhoods, city engineers with the big buck salaries need to get out in the streets and assess the state of swale drainage. From what I can see the newer homes swales are not dug deep enough by the builder and so an older home ends up with a water filled pond in the front yard, or vice versa and it’s the newer home with the pond. This idea, as with many things in the city government, unfortunately, has not been thought through all the way. It’s up to us to get them to think.
They should be also accountable for removing dead trees from their lots too.
5th Gen Florida Native says
You can’t park in the swale but you better mow it! Palm Coast is absurd. You all move here from New York, New Jersey and all the other northern states to get away and are changing it to be just like up there. It’s ridiculous. If you want me to mow the swale you better let me park in it too.
Anyone can park in the swale during the hours of 6am until 1am the following day. The only time you’re not suppose to park in the swale is between the hours of 1am and 6am. the sheriff department is suppose to enforce this rule but hardly do unless someone reports it to the sheriff’s department during those hours.
Houser in PC says
To Jay Tomm’s point, this will create an incentive to develop undevelop lots. It will create a higher revenue–lower revenue loss which is more a burden on homeowners. If real estate investors are already buying up lots, renting out properties at high costs, why not shif the burden on them for the vacant lots so that curren homeowners can remain in with the current quality of life?
They’re going to develop those lots anyway. They aren’t going to be vacant forever. Inestors will either develop or sell.
We already have a higher revenue coming from residents than commercial, which means homeowners and renters are shouldering much of the burden of upkeep in community costs.
It should be a fee process. It might be a more innovative approach then the Council even realizes to maintainin revenue, quality of life (pretty Palm Coast) and housing affordability for current homeowners.