Tag Archives: landscaping

St. Louis County Harassing Us Again

Our next door neighbor has been discharging most of her drainage into our yard for years, causing thousands of dollars of damage to our property. We installed rain gardens to keep her runoff from further damaging our home. St. Louis County wants us to get rid of our fixes and be subjected to damage again when the problem originates next door. I’m going to document our steps again as we fight this plus the time I’m spending, so I’m beginning a new log. Where we left off, I had spent 27.81 hours working on our defense.

The first log explaining the background is here:
Drainage Problems Are Bringing Tom and Me To Court

01-14-20 – Received letter saying we have to remove our landscaping along the fence line.

01-15-20 – I sent an email to an official from MSD, the St. Louis County Property Complaints division, and John Geiler of St. Louis County. I left phone messages for John Geiler and Mike Hite (whose name is on the notice of violation letter). I requested a personal meeting with John Geiler so I can tour the property with him and show him the problems. I sent a copy of the letter to my attorney requesting legal assistance. I also sent a link to this update to the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, Stream Teams United, River Des Peres Watershed Coalition, Environment Missouri, Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region, Deer Creek Watershed Alliance, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, and Great Rivers Greenway.

Time spent as of 01-15-20 – 28.39 hours

Update 01-16-20: Since yesterday, I have been contacted by the St. Louis County inspector, a representative from MSD, and a representative from the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. Here is an email I sent to the MSD representative and the supervisor of the inspector a few minutes ago. It will fill you in on the situation as of right now.

“Hi, I really appreciate your call yesterday. This letter is being copied to Mike Hite and John Geiler of St. Louis County, and will be published here shortly:
www.chasenfratz.com/wp/st-louis-county-harassing-us-again/

Here, as requested, is what it says in the notice about the exact violation.

“Violation 1 302.2 Grading and Drainage. Health Related. All premises shall be graded and maintained to prevent the erosion of soil and to prevent the accumulation of stagnant water thereon. REMOVE THE LANDSCAPING ALONG YOUR FENCE WHERE THE WATER CAN FLOW AS IT WAS DESIGNED.”

Mike Hite, who is the inspector listed on the notice, called me this morning and let me know that he received my email. In his message he said that people always block the water from the other yard. He assumed we did that, but we did not do that, the water was not blocked but facilitated in the flow from her yard to ours. Just because other people do it, it does not follow that that is what we did.

I don’t know why no one from the county will look at the actual property, look at the pictures I’ve provided or the videos to see the following.

Water was on both sides of the fence before I did anything. Photos are in my first article with dates on them showing this. I can show you on my phone to show when I took the photos and did not fake the dates on the graphic. Here it is:

March 2018
March 2018

The flow of water from her property to ours probably worked fine in the 1950s when these homes were built. Here is what happened. Over the years, lawns on both sides got mowed over and over, but you can’t mow the actual fence line. Over the years, plant roots and organic matter build up along the fence, creating a high spot along the fence line. This trapped water on her side. At the same time, repeated inundations of water in both yards, and nothing planted in the yards in the affected area except turfgrass, caused the soil to be compacted in the areas that collect water. Turfgrass is not a very permeable surface especially if maintained for decades in a way that depletes the soil. So the problem the county says we caused was pre-existing.

Over the years, apparently more of her yard was paved causing runoff to have to be dumped into a smaller area of soil than the drainage was originally designed for, exacerbating the problem further. I can’t return the property to the original configuration it was designed in because the property next to us (7409 Rockwood Dr) already altered the dynamic decades ago causing much damage to the soil and altering the original drainage forever. When these houses were built they did not design the situation to still be sustainable 70 years later. We know a lot more about landscaping and how it affects water and soil than we did in 1954. Even if I could return the landscaping in both yards to it’s 1950s state, the problem would occur again over time. My landscaping is designed to be sustainable because I’ve used the knowledge we now have in the 21st century to make it so.

When I first built the raised bed along the fence line, the neighbor thought it was ugly so she complained that it was trapping water on her side. I don’t know if that was true or not since water was already trapped on her side before I did anything. Nevertheless, I knew that was not a desirable outcome and having no inclination to damage her already unattractive yard and feeble turfgrass further I took steps to make sure that does not happen. I removed the bricks in the low spot, removed the bricks along the back edge of the bed (solely because she told me she thought they were ugly, I replaced them with fine black mesh that is less visible and also more permeable just in case), made my collection area on our side larger and lower than her side, and now her yard drains completely. That is not all I did, you have a full list from my previous article, but those are the major things.

Her yard didn’t drain completely BEFORE we changed anything. I have checked it after each and every rain (other than when we were in Yellowstone last summer) to make sure (edit after sending) it does now. We IMPROVED the existing problem rather than causing it as we have been accused of doing.

Here is a link to an image that has been available to the county since July 2019.

Location of three of the four drainage pipes aimed at our yard with water collection areas indicated from before we started work.
Location of three of the four drainage pipes aimed at our yard with water collection areas indicated from before we started work.

Mike said in his phone message to me that he could not find one of the drainage pipes that is closer than 10 feet when he came to our property. I question whether the inspectors actually get out of their trucks to look because I witnessed one in May (the 2nd) doing an inspection without even stopping the truck all the way. This diagram shows clearly where to look for the pipes. I actually left one off when I made this diagram – there is one more at the north edge of the carport that I didn’t notice when I made this. Yes it’s hard to see everything at first glance, but it’s my opinion that if you are citing someone for a violation that has already been dropped in the court once, shouldn’t you be certain about these things? There is a real economic cost to me having to spend time fighting this over and over when it has been fixed since May 4. I’m partially self-employed and when I’m working on this I’m not earning money. I have plenty of proof in photo and video. I am willing to show it to a judge if that’s what it takes. Why can’t the inspectors look at the actual evidence when it’s been provided over and over again? That’s the part I can’t understand.

Here is the second pipe that is closer than 10 feet from our property (right photo).

image_pairs_pipes

This image was provided to the county in August 2019. The tape measure is shown extended to 10 feet. The pipe has not moved since I took this picture. I don’t understand why the inspector could not see it. You are welcome to come and measure it, don’t take my word for it. Are you not allowed to walk beyond the gate? That I understand. There is no lock on it, but if you are not allowed to go beyond that explains this whole mess. Please make an appointment with me and I’ll show you everything in person. This offer of a tour has been on the table since August 2019.

I also offered soil, fertilizer and grass seed to the neighbor at NO COST to repair the water damaged spot in her yard. I would even install it for free if she wanted me to. We did not cause the damage, it was caused by outdated landscape management practices that are harmful to the soil quality over time. But it’s in both of our best interests to improve the appearance of her lawn and if she believes we caused it I’m happy to fix it. I physically extended with my actual arm an actual bag of grass seed that I bought for her and showed her a pile of soil that we ordered from St. Louis Compost and offered her a share of it to revive her grass. The grass seed I offered her has roots up to four feet long which will help greatly in reducing her soil compaction and helping it absorb water. You cannot buy this grass seed in big box stores. She turned me down flat. The grass on our side of the fence is fine, even in the spots that flood all the time. It’s good enough that a client of mine bought plugs of it from me last summer. I’d love to tell this all to a judge, believe me, so I have no fear of being taken to court again. If you think that is a threat to me (the phone call made sure to include that), after reading the above I’m sure you can understand why it is not.

Thank you for your time.”

Time spent as of 01-16-20 – 30.25 hours

Update: 01-17-20

I have not heard from anyone except MSD since my last update. Here is  copy of a letter I have just sent to John Geiler of St. Louis County who supervises the inspectors.

“Hi, I’ve attached a photo that I took this morning. With the water frozen, it’s easier to see where the wet spots are. You can see where the fence is. The top portion is our neighbor’s yard. The bottom portion is ours. This is the low spot in our backyards where water flows from one yard to another. As you can see, we are not trapping water in her yard.

I don’t know why she keeps falsely reporting that we are. I don’t know why your inspectors keep falsely reporting that we are. I can speculate but don’t know for sure. I have contacted my attorney to find out how to put a stop to this. It’s been going on since May. I have blind copied him in on this email and I will be publishing this letter on my blog shortly so no one  can claim you have not been kept fully informed through each step.
Here is the blog:
How do we put an end to this?
Thank you,
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann”
Here is the photo I attached:
Low spot between our yards - 01-17-20
Low spot between our yards – 01-17-20

Update: 02/24/20

I have sent emails to both Mike Hite and John Geiler. I spoke to Mike on the phone this morning. His attitude is clear. He is not interested in looking at any of my evidence and does not feel he has to actually understand the case before taking my husband to court. Eventually I will put more of my evidence here when I have time and keep track of my hours that I have spent the last few days but he make it clear he will not look at any more so I will not bother to send any more. He made it clear that 8 months is not enough time to read an email or look at a two and half minute video. He said he can’t look at videos because they might have viruses but he refused to look at it on my phone, plus it’s on YouTube so he knows it won’t have a virus anyway.

So, I guess we’re headed to court no matter what we do because we are clearly being set up to fail. I hope the judge has a better understanding of the case than the inspectors are willing to have.

Update: 02/25/20

Ok, a friend of mine in the real estate business has advised me to print out every email I have sent the county, and I’m going to do that when we go to court. In the meantime the emails will all go here also. I’m going to be writing to a lot of people and they will need to see all the letters in one place. I will list the date of each one, and what the response was, if there was a response.

On February 20, Michael Hite came to the property at 7409 Rockwood. From my desk at 7405 Rockwood, I could see him. I have been wanting to talk to someone from the County in person since May of 2019, but before this they have always come on days when I’m not here. Before February 20, the only exception was May 2, 2019, the day before we got our first notice from the county. A county truck came by but did not stop all the way. When they saw I was there they hit the gas and sped off. I don’t know who the driver was, but I remember it being a woman.

On February 20 I came out and greeted Mike and offered to show him around and explain what is going on and discuss how to fix it. He was not interested in anything more than a cursory look. He would not listen to the questions or comments I had. I offered to show him video on my phone of what I was talking about. He would not look at it. I invited him to come inside and look at the video on my computer. He declined. He asked me to send him videos and pictures by email. He said not more than five or so. I said ok.

Here is what I sent him that day, recreating the best I can.

Video – They were .MOV files on Thursday. I have put them on You Tube today so everyone can see them.

Pictures

Drainage from 7409 to 7405 Rockwood, summer 2019
Drainage from 7409 to 7405 Rockwood, summer 2019
Low spot between our yards - 01-17-20
Low spot between our yards – 01-17-20

IMG_0505

IMG_0504

The above two photos of the ice on our driveway are to show that Diane Broy at 7409 Rockwood Drive, St. Louis MO 63123 is continuing to discharge water onto our driveway in violation of St. Louis County law. Her pipe is closer than the 10 feet allowed, it is four feet. We had to have our driveway replaced in 2018 because of years of this discharge undermining the soil and causing cracks with all the freeze thaw cycles. This is also where I park and as you can see it’s a hazard to walk in our own driveway because of her. I reported this in July 2019. I pointed it out again to Mike on February 20, 2020 and sent him these pictures on February 20, 2020. The ice pictures were taken on January 19, 2020.

Inline image

Those are the image and videos I sent to Mike while he was running away from me that I could not get him to look at on my phone while we were both standing there. One bit of information I did manage to get from his was the following. I asked him about the complaint that we were trapping water on her side of the fence and how he could see while we were standing there that the water was all on our side. Mike said he had video of water on her side of the fence from an earlier visit that he took during a rain. So I said the standard we have to meet then is no water can be on her side WHILE IT’S RAINING? How are we supposed to do that when it originates on her side?

After Mike left, this was my follow up email on February 20.

March 2018
March 2018
“As you can see, we did not cause the problem. It existed before I changed anything. We FIXED the problem. We did not cause it.. See this video of water flowing freely during a rain last summer.”

“It did not flow freely BEFORE I did anything because there was already a raised area along the fence line due to mowing on either side of it for more than 50 years and organic matter building up along fence line. If we have to make sure there is no water on her side WHILE it’s raining then that is something we cannot fix no matter what we do because her yard has poor drainage. The problem is on HER side.”

That is the end of my communication with Mike on February 20, 2020. You will notice that I am sending the same content over and over. That’s because people from the County keep claiming not to have it. The content in the last email I sent on February 20, 2020 has been in Mike’s possession since July 30, 2019 and has been public on this blog since July 30, 2019. (See it here: Drainage Problems Are Bringing Tom and Me to Court) This is the same evidence Mike looked at in court on July 30, 2019 and used it to dismiss the charges against us.

On February 20, 2020, Mike claimed not have this information. He asked me to send it again (you’ll read later on February 24 he criticized me for sending too many emails). I have asked him why in eight months he could not view it. I asked him why he did not remember looking at it with us on court in July 30 2019. He said he didn’t understand the case. He said he could not look at videos because they might have viruses. It can’t have viruses if it’s on YouTube, but okay fine. When he was here on Thursday February 20 I suggested looking at it on my phone or my computer. He refused and left.

I have to end this for now and get some actual work done, you’ll hear more about what happened on Monday, February 24 and why I’m resigned to going to court again. There isn’t going to be any way out of it so I’m going to thoroughly document the process here so it will all be in one place when it’s time.

Hours spent so far on our defense: 36.83

On Sunday, February 23, I went out to work on the garden and see what could be done to draw more water over to our side of the fence since Mike told us we have to draw all the water over from her yard even while it’s raining. Knowing that is not possible, since he told me to do it I thought I’d at least show we tried so that when we are in court I can show I am not just ignoring the problem. I made the bio-swales on our side bigger, and planted additional Louisiana Iris and Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum). Those are hardy perennials that tolerate wet periods. Only the Iris is going to be visible right now because the Blue Mistflower dies down to the ground in winter and is not quick to get started in the spring. But it’s native and beautiful and very well suited to this purpose so worth the wait.

Monday morning the 24th it was raining and out of curiosity I went to see how the wet areas were performing. There was no visible water on her side even DURING the rain which I did not think was really possible. I thought Mike and his boss would like to see this.

I sent this email to Michael Hite and John Geiler on February 24 at 8:18 am.

“Inspector Mike told us that even though the water originates on our neighbor’s side of the fence, it’s not good enough that the water drains completely into our yard after the rain is over, it has to be completely on our side even WHEN it is raining. Sounds impossible, so it makes me wonder what is really going on, but we gave it a try anyway and it looks like we succeeded, I took this photo a few minutes ago during actual rain.

Inline image

Our side (7405) is on the right. Note water on right side, not the left (7409). Is this good enough?”

At 8:14 John responded and copied his reply to Mike.

“As long as there is nothing in your back yard that alters the natural flow of water from the uphill properties to the storm water inlet at the bottom of the hill. That is the natural swale and cannot be altered according to the ordinance. Any alterations would have to be approved by the Zoning Department with a request for a variance.

John”

I replied asking if he could call me to tell me exactly what this means. I have made the water flow better since I started my garden, but his directive is vague enough that I wanted to clarify exactly what I need to do. Obviously he was available so all it would take is one phone call from him to find out exactly what we are supposed to do and get this whole thing over with. I was hopeful that it was finally going to be over.

The phone rang and I was happy to be able to get some clear information finally.  But it was Mike berating me for sending the email, and telling me he would not look at it and told me not to send any more.

So clearly we are being set up to fail and we have no choice but to go on the offensive and pursue what legal remedies are possible. That’s what I’m working on next.

I sent this email to Michael Hite and John Geiler on February 24 at 3:01 pm.

“Ok I know you guys are not interested in any information from me, but you might be interested in a solution.

I’ll fill the bioswale with mulch so the water can still pass through somewhat. In the short term, this will likely make water stay in the neighbor’s yard more. That’s how it was before but you want things returned to the way they were before so that should be ok. I’ll keep adding plants, but since a lot of perennial plants die back in the winter I will need to plant in the mulch either winter scouring rush, bamboo, or something else that stays erect and green all year long and keeps absorbing water all year round. Winter scouring rush (Equisetum hyemale) is a native plant so we don’t have to worry about it being invasive. That way once they start growing they should suck up more of the water. I think more diverse plants and shorter plants would be more attractive to both us and the neighbor, but we are not going to be allowed to do that so I have to suck up as much water as
 quickly as possible and winter scouring rush is a better choice than invasive bamboo so I’ll try that first. Winter scouring rush should stay green most of the year – I have seen it green in February while picking up trash on Simpson lake after the 2015 flood during Operation Clean Stream.
You most likely won’t have read this, so when you take us to court I’ll inform the judge that I offered this to you as a solution on February 24, 2020. I will continue to document all our communications on our blog as well. And the judge will be given a list of when you had what information. I can’t make you read it but I can document that at least.
I don’t know how you expect people to find a workable solution when you come to person’s house, refuse to look at evidence, ask me to email it, so I do, then you don’t read it, berate me for sending it and inform me you will not read it. Yesterday I made more changes and I sent you a photo this morning and asked if that meets the requirements. I requested a phone call to see if that was sufficient. Instead of just answering my question, I got a call saying no one will look at the email and not to send any more. So you refuse to work with me at all and the judge will be told that. I don’t know if she will care, but she will be informed of each communication, what date, and what was the response. You have decided we are guilty without a trial and have informed us that your are not interested in any evidence we might present and when we fix something you will not look at what we did. So that’s what I will tell the judge in court, and will be telling anyone who will listen to us. Which may be nobody, but I will still tell it.”
This was to show I’m working to still try to solve this to show that I’m acting in good faith, although it’s clear there is nothing I can do to satisfy these people. In contrast, what has our neighbor done since last summer to try to fix her illegal pipes? Absolutely nothing. But we are the ones who are going to have to go to court and if we don’t my husband can be arrested.
I got a response from Michael Hite on February 25 at 11:19 am. It was copied to John Geiler.

“Carolyn,

Thanks for the e-mail, I did read it.  I will be in contact with neighbor to discuss the matter further.  If you would like to talk to your neighbor that would help also.

Mike H.”
I sent this response at 2:56 pm.

“Thank you for your reply. I don’t believe talking to her will resolve anything. If she approaches me I will not turn her away but I knew after last July that talking to her was useless. You know how she likes to call you on the only day of the week that we are normally both gone? She must not want me to talk to you like I did last Thursday. If she really wanted to resolve this in a reasonable way she would want me to talk to you and not try to have you come only when we’re not here. I want to talk to you but you aren’t interested in talking to me. Neither is your boss. I have written to my County Council representative, the County Executive and several media outlets. I don’t know how many of those will care. I don’t have many options open to me. I’m proceeding with the options that are open to me on the advice of my attorney.

Last summer before we had even had our first court date, my husband and I were gone on our honeymoon in Yellowstone Park. There was a flash flood warning from the city of Brentwood (I got it on my phone in Yellowstone so I know what day it was). She knew we couldn’t talk to you or explain what is going on. She probably didn’t know where we were but my Jeep is normally parked on the driveway so she knew we were out of town. She called you when there was a flash flood so it would look like there was a bad water problem. How do I know this? A citation from you with that exact date on it.
I have fixed everything she asked me to fix. I had the drainage problem (if there ever was one, which I’m skeptical about) fixed by sundown on May 4, 2019. I don’t know why she wants to keep harassing us. I don’t know why you go along with it. I didn’t know either of you before this started. I can’t see how I have wronged either of you in any way in the past but you are both determined to harass me and my husband. I know why she hates my husband (her friend sued him), but I never talked to her in my life until I went over to talk to her on May 4 to ask her why she called you and to see if we could work something out. She refused every one of my suggestions so I just changed the specific things she mentioned and tried to leave her alone. I’m out in the backyard pretty often and she’s rarely out there. If we are both out there at the same time I used to smile and say Hi but I’m done with that, now I just turn my back and go about my business. There is nothing I can do to make her happy since the source of the excess water is on her side. I have done almost everything I can do. Based on advice from my attorney, I’m doing what is left available to me. It will take time to go through all the steps. Whatever you do to us in the future I will react to in a way so as to defend us against further financial damage. We are already thousands in the hole from her excess water. My goal is to prevent further financial damage and I will do whatever is necessary and also ethical and legal to defend ourselves. We didn’t start this but if necessary I will finish it.”

 

A Little Unintentional Garden Humor

I just left this letter on a neighbor’s door handle:

“August 27, 2019,

Hi, I’m your near neighbor at (address) – the house where the red Jeep is parked a lot. I’m sorry to bother you but I inadvertently caused a weird problem. I saw the landscaping company that does your lawn working at your house this morning. I have an urgent need for mulch, and grass clippings are perfect for my needs. I asked the workers at your house to fill a few containers with grass clippings for me if they were going to dispose of them and leave the containers there and I would just walk across the street and pick them up. I’ve worked as a landscaper so I know most of the time they just put the grass clippings in a big dumpster that goes to the yard waste facility to be processed. I gave them a small tip for their trouble. What I didn’t know is that they didn’t understand that I wanted them to leave the containers out in front of your house for me to pick up when they were done. They brought the containers back to their shop. It’s not their fault – I should have anticipated this and made a note of what company they work for – but I did not do that. Can you please give me an email or a phone call to let me know what company they work for so I can call them and get my containers back? I thought this would be a simple request that would not cause anyone any hassle but I misjudged. I would have given them a lot bigger tip if I expected them to fill the containers at their shop, I just wanted the sweepings since they had to do cleanup anyway!!!

Thank you so much!

Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
(phone)
(email)”

It’s not easy being green!

How Much Is A Tree Worth?

I ran a test on an oak tree that is at the corner of my condo to see what the value of it is in hard cash terms. I used a really useful tool called i-Tree Design. Here is a screenshot showing some of the benefits of this tree over a 10 year period.

Monetary value of a large oak tree

You can run tests using your own property as an example with different sizes and species of trees. The tool will even show you spots on your property where trees will have the most and least benefit. It’s lots of fun and very enlightening! Sometimes it’s a good idea to know how much a tree is worth when you are deciding whether to invest money in tree care or planting new trees.

Read more on the Schnarr’s Hardware blog: How Much Is A Tree Worth?