Overland Park garden stirs ordinance debate over storage

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - An Overland Park couple's garden caught the eye of code enforcement officers. Now the city of planning committee will take a second look at the city's outdoor storage ordinance.

Lisa Hays and her husband Billy Justus spend hours on their garden, growing beautiful flowers and fresh fruit. Their yard is even certified as a wildlife habitat. They grow everything in their garden, from dahlias to fresh berries, without any chemicals.

"People stop and compliment us frequently on the new things that are blooming or how gorgeous it is," Hays said.

However, in May, the homeowners received an unexpected visit from an Overland Park code enforcement officer.

"He introduced himself and said that there had been a neighbor complaint about rain barrels and could he see what the situation was," Hays said.

The couple uses rain barrels to collect rain to water their garden. They started with one barrel but it didn't hold enough water for their growing garden and overflowed easily.

"I would have to tell you my husband is the one who got creative," Hays said about how her husband solved the problem.

"I decided to put some barrels underneath the deck to capture more," Justus told 41 Action News.

Justus' eco-friendly invention now captures hundreds of gallons of rain water from their roof and stores it so the water is easily accessible through a spigot.

As the design grew, so did the number of barrels Justus put to use. In all, they have 25 barrels: seven under their deck collecting water and others repurposed as water retention pots to grow plants.

In late April, a neighbor called code enforcement to complain about the number of barrels. At that time, the garden was not in bloom and the barrels were visible.

Overland Park Code Enforcement determined the number of barrels was a violation of the city's storage ordinance.

"When you're using multiple rain barrels, 30 or 40 barrels in a backyard, and you're stacking them up, then we're saying listen it's the abundance of these that really encroaches on other people's views," said Jack Messer, Overland Park Planning and Development Services Director.

Overland Park's rain barrel program | http://bit.ly/1bS9NQ2

The ordinance states anything stored outside should be in a fully enclosed structure or screened from view. Messer said his staff interpreted that to mean that the couple should screen from view the rain barrels.

However, the ordinance allows for exceptions for items that are in use, or unable to be hidden from view. In the ordinance, the city lists examples such as a child's playground equipment or a flag pole.

Hays and Justus believe now that their garden is in bloom, the barrels are hidden from view. They also believe because the rain barrels are functional, they should be exempt. They point out the city's own website encourages homeowners to buy rain barrels by offering grants to offset the cost.

Directions on how to build a rain barrel | http://bit.ly/16fgAgH

Messer decided because there are multiple interpretations of this ordinance, he would bring it to the city council planning committee for clarification.

"I think it is something we want to talk about in terms of how we go about it because I don't think the backyard storage provision in our ordinances ever thought about this or ever envisioned this kind of application," Messer explained.

The committee will take up the issue on Aug. 7.

Melissa Yeager can be reached at melissa.yeager@kshb.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @MelissaKSHB or connect on Facebook: Melissa Yeager KSHB-TV.

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