ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Tim Saunders planted his garden in 2014, but this past December, a code enforcement officer gave him a notice saying he needed to clear the weeds and trash.
“I had a bucket and one of these yard chairs that was overturned, and also I had a bunch of vegetation, a lot of trees and perennials that were hibernating that were of concern to him,” said Saunders.
Saunders said he cleared any trash from his yard, but left his plants. He and his mother both live on the property and harvest the food he grows. Saunders says in January, he believed the problem was solved.
His front yard is now completely bare, cleared by the city who says he didn’t make progress on cleaning his yard. The issue? What the code enforcer worried about were weeds, which were actually around $1,000 worth of mature fruit trees, berry bushes, perennials, and medicinal plants.
“On Valentine’s Day, I got a frantic call from my mom saying they’re tearing down trees and they’re cutting the yard,” said Saunders.
Two pear trees, blackberry bushes, and dozens of other plants were taken out leaving a blank slate of soil in front of his house.
“If people want to grow food and try to provide for their families, that should be a pretty simple thing for a citizen to do,” he said.
Roanoke’s acting Codes Compliance Administrator Jeffrey White explained in a phone call with WFXR News that the city gave Saunders time to tidy his yard, and when there wasn’t progress, they ordered it to be cleared. According to city code, weeds and trash are a public nuisance, but “weeds” are defined as “grass or other vegetation over ten (10) inches in height…excluding trees, ornamental shrubbery, vegetable and flower gardens purposefully planted and maintained by the property owner.” White acknowledged that some shrubbery may have been wrongfully removed and said they’re speaking with the contractor to figure out if a mistake was made.
“It’s more just the idea of private property. If we can’t do this on our own land, especially when times are tough and food is more expensive, then where can we do this?” asked Saunders.
For now, Saunders is waiting to see what grows back in the spring, but nearly 10 years of cultivating won’t be regrown as quickly as it was torn down.