The Janesville Plan Commission approved ordinance amendments Monday night that would loosen residential landscaping and gardening rules.
If the city council approves them, the changes would allow residents to plant vegetables in front yards—with the exception of corn—and implement natural landscaping on all sides of a home with some restrictions.
The Sustainable Janesville Committee devised the ordinance amendments and first presented them to the plan commission in 2017, but the commission gave them back to the group for rewrites.
The group changed its proposals and convinced the plan commission to send them to the city council with a favorable recommendation.
The amended ordinances would allow city residents to grow farm and garden crops in the open as long as the plants do not grow taller than 30 inches.
Gardens must be “clearly managed,” free of noxious weeds and at least 2 feet away from all property lines, according to a city memo.
Corn would not be allowed because it can have a “screening effect” that would inhibit visibility between homes and roadways. Plants taller than 30 inches would have the same effect.
The changes would also eliminate the current ordinance that restricts native plant growth to 10% of a residential lot. Native landscaped areas would need a “clear, definable” edge, which could include turf grass, hedges, fencing, walking paths or other borders.
The city would enforce the ordinance changes on a complaint basis, the same way it enforces ordinances dictating the length of turf grass, city environmental technician Matt Robinson said.
Members of the Sustainable Janesville Committee have offered to mediate for the city between homeowners and complainants to educate residents about the benefits of natural landscaping and the identification and removal of noxious or invasive weeds, said committee member Wes Enterline.
Commissioner Carl Weber worried about ordinance enforcement. He was concerned there could be people who abuse the ordinance by letting their lawns get unruly.
Weber also anticipated some residents might not know the difference between natural landscaping and overgrown lawns, thus sparking complaints.
The commission agreed education will be crucial if the city council approves the changes. Commissioners recommended the city send out communication online, via social media and through community events to teach the community about the benefits of natural landscaping and how to maintain it.
Enterline said the committee is open to working with outside partners, such as Rotary Botanical Gardens, to host workshops on natural landscaping.
Identity thieves using the “felony lane gang” method were in Janesville on Thursday, and police would not be surprised if more victims come forward.
“They don’t come up here just for one theft, so there will be multiple victims,” said Detective Chris Buescher of the Janesville Police Department.
Buescher issued a crime alert Monday with photos from a credit union surveillance camera and asked anyone with information to contact him.
Thieves smashed a car window at the Janesville Athletic Club, 1301 Black Bridge Road, and stole a purse Thursday afternoon, according the crime alert.
That’s the first step in the felony lane gang method, which has been used nationwide for many years. Gyms, day care centers, dog parks and large public events, where women are likely to leave purses in their cars, are frequent targets, Buescher said.
Often, it’s men who steal the purses and women who take the next step, Buescher said.
After the Janesville theft, two women showed up in the drive-thru at the Blackhawk Community Credit Union in Delavan and tried to cash a check for nearly $2,400, Buescher said.
The check had been stolen in Blanchardville.
Police released images apparently taken by the credit union’s cameras showing who appear to be two women in an SUV.
Felony lane gang thieves often use rental cars, and the women sometimes wear wigs so they will look more like the photo on the stolen ID, Buescher said.
A teller got suspicious, probably because of the large amount, and delayed the transaction, Buescher said.
The suspects drove off, but the credit union retained the ID card.
Buescher said financial institutions have gotten better at spotting such fraud attempts: “They’ve been training their folks to look for that type of thing, especially when they’re cashing large-dollar checks.”
“Felony lane gang” refers to a method rather than a specific gang. The method apparently originated in Florida.
Groups of roving criminals employ the method, often moving from town to town to avoid detection. Arrests in felony lane gang crimes in Nebraska last fall reportedly included two people from Florida and a woman from Oregon, Wisconsin.
The name refers to the thieves’ frequent use of the bank drive-up lane that is farthest from the teller.
Previous felony lane gang crimes were reported in Janesville in March 2018 and summer 2017.
Buescher said the crime is a timely reminder, with many outdoor events scheduled in the months ahead. He advised people to lock purses in trunks or at least cover the purse with a coat so it can’t be seen.
Buescher said felony lane gang thefts in years past in this area have included dog-walking areas in Jefferson County and Janesville, gyms, and at Shopiere Days.
Sandra E. Lawarance
Donald L. Luth
David M. Savona
Henry C. Schoeberle
Thor T. Tellefson, Jr.