Everything from the length of grass on people’s lawns to noise levels and fines for public disturbances are included in a revised municipal bylaw that was given first reading by Red Deer city council on Monday.
Under Red Deer’s updated proposed Community Standards Bylaw, a few previous rules were dropped — swearing in public spaces would no longer be an offence — and some things were added, making it fine-able to allow your lawn to grow higher than 15 cm., or five to six inches.
Coun. Ken Johnston questioned the proposed grass length rule, saying it’s more environmentally friendly to leave grass longer as it requires less watering and crowds out weeds.
Inspections and licensing manager Erin Stuart said the 15 cm measurement was taken from the City of Calgary’s bylaws, but she would consider a longer measure before the bylaw returns for second reading on April 26.
Stuart told council it was time to modernize the 2007 bylaw that was developed to regulating certain activities, including noise, nuisances, unsightly premises and public disturbances. She said municipal enforcement officers and RCMP handle about 2,000 files annually, mostly related to noise complaints and other infractions, including swearing, panhandling, loitering and bullying.
Council heard behaviour-related complaints have risen while property-related complaints have declined. Feedback from 400 residents provided to the city in late 2019 to 2020 showed that neighbourhood aesthetics, as well crime reduction and a sense of community safety were major concerns.
The Municipal Community Standards Bylaw was revised to increase city authority in some areas and provide clearer expectations around public and nuisance behaviours, vacant and derelict properties, and yard maintenance. Stuart believes administration can, therefore, be more “nimble and responsive” to complaints.
More detailed definition was given of unoccupied buildings and what’s expected from their owners to prevent unauthorized people from entering these properties, and in addressing vandalism and garbage dumping.
Johnston told Stuart he hoped that people who leave their homes to spend winter months in southern climates do not get swept up in these rules. Stuart said the wording would be tweaked to ensure that they did not.
The chronic nuisance portion of the bylaw was expanded: loitering rules for instance, would no longer just apply to three people or more gathering, but would kick in if there’s aggressive behaviour, threats, insults, or unwanted physical contact.
Coun. Vesna Higham also wanted swearing in pubic spaces to be retained as an offence in the bylaw — even though Stuart said the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does protect freedom of expression. And Higham suggested the bylaw address street racing.
Coun. Michael Dawe hopes members of the community will review the proposed Community Standards Bylaw on the city’s website and provide feedback before second and third readings later this month.