Saturday, July 26, 2008

Friendly FACTs Fix Frisco Fences

Good fences make good neighbors: a tried and true adage that can be taken any number of ways. Metaphorically, it suggests that establishing clear boundaries makes sure that everyone knows and respects our personal space and rights. Taken literally, it means that I don’t have to put up with the guy next door’s dog pushing over the fence into my yard, making it darn near impossible to grow grass on that side of the house!

Taking the concept one step further, I’d add that good lawn care indicates just as good a neighbor. You spend a couple of hours every week toiling over your small (or not so small) plot of earth to make it look inviting and pastoral. Your own little slice of suburban bliss. Then the yahoo across the street decides that the high cost of gas justifies not mowing for three weeks. And as much as he may think otherwise, a dandelion is NOT a “decorative flower.” There ought to be a law.

Guess what? There is. In fact, there are several. Frisco is stacked with ordinances designed to ensure a pleasant environment and bolster our property values. “Dilapidated fences” and “tall vegetation” are but two of the nuisances that our city Code Enforcement Division lists as being critical to “protecting the health, safety and welfare of the City of Frisco.” (That’s a quote right from the city web site. Check it out at, then search for “Code Enforcement.”) Other menaces include illegal sign placement (had enough of the stacks of garage sales signs at the corner every weekend?), debris or other nuisances (presumably, this would cover the abandoned sofa with the oh-so-attractive floral print that’s been sitting on the curb for a week), and substandard or dangerous structures (that do-it-yourself shed sure looked good at Home Depot 3 years ago!).

The challenge? Well, it seems that the code enforcement people don’t have the resources to track down and prosecute these perpetrators of civil dilapidation. After all, there are only so many hours in a day and they have a limited staff. So they, like many cities, rely on citizens to fill up their day planners with reports of violations great and small. Phone numbers, e-mail addresses and even a physical address are provided for you to turn state’s evidence against your fellow Friscoans when they step out of line.

This is fine for those chronic abusers of public decorum. Get them to clean things up or slap a fine on ‘em. But chances are, most of the violations you or I might note around the city are not the product of malicious intent. No, it may just be that the reason I haven’t mowed my lawn in a while is that my mower broke and the local fix-it shop has a 45-day backlog on getting it repaired. In cases like this, a friendly reminder (and the suggestion of an able-bodied youngster in the area looking to make some extra spending cash) would do far more good than getting the authorities involved.

That’s the goal of the new Frisco Assistant Code Team. Created by the Code Enforcement department, FACT is a program that trains volunteers throughout the city to recognize code violations in their neighborhoods. Instead of escalating every issue to the Code Enforcement Officers, team members issue “courtesy notices” indicating the problem and, if possible, suggesting a solution. The hope is that these polite reminders coming from neighbors will compel people to remedy the situation without resorting to “official” action. If things aren’t taken care of, the case can be escalated properly.

At first blush, this new system seemed a bit too “Big Brother” for me. Code Enforcement Administrator, Greg Carr, suggests that “FACT members cannot consider their personal opinions when leaving courtesy notices on their neighbors’ doors.” Yeah. Good luck with that. Any time you get citizens involved in policing their fellow residents’ behavior, biases are going to creep in and tempers are going to flare. Just ask anybody who’s ever served on a home owner’s board. You can have the best of intentions, but criticize how someone trims his shrubs and the peaceful tranquility of your cozy cul-de-sac can be shattered in seconds.

Time will tell whether FACT’s polite notices have a positive impact on the condition of our neighborhoods, or just become another piece of paper piled on a foreclosed home’s doorstep. We all want to live in a place where everyone takes responsibility for their own space. But sadly, the reason we have fences – and FACTs – is because we need them.

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