Cedar Rapids not about to back off effort to get neighbor to feed fewer birds

City's new focus on nuisance abatement allows staff "to go to work" on "health hazard," councilwoman says

Rick Smith
Published: January 15 2014 | 5:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:07 am in

Cindi Ekberg is exactly the kind of person that the Cedar Rapids City Council designed its new nuisance abatement ordinance to help, council member Monica Vernon said on Tuesday.

Ekberg, of 5001 Kesler Rd. NW, is the homeowner who has a renter next door who has had nearly 20 bird feeders plus the added penchant for scattering more bird feed liberally in her small front and backyards.

Ekberg told the City Council on Tuesday that she suffers from lung and asthma issues and can’t let her visiting grandchildren outside because of the swarms of birds and the feces the birds leave next door and on her property, too.

"The number of birds is suitable for a nature preserve, not a home," Ekberg said at one point during public comment at the council’s Tuesday noon meeting. "This is my reality, and it’s truly a nightmare."

The city’s Building Services Division has been taking Ekberg’s part and is seeking a remedy to what Ekberg defined as "overfeeding" by renter Roseanne Dodd at 5009 Kessler Rd. NW.

After Tuesday’s council meeting, Kevin Ciabatti, the city’s Building Services director, said the city is following a procedure as set out in city and state law and is targeting its nuisance enforcement action against the property-owning landlords, Michael and Teresa Dove of rural Cedar Rapids.

Teresa Dove on Tuesday said she had advised tenant Roseanne Dodd to "minimize" the amount of bird feeding that she does. But Dove said she’s "caught in the middle" because her tenant has rights, too.

"I need a guideline, so I can go to my renters and say, ‘That’s what’s allowed in the city,’" Dove said. "But they don’t have that."

Dodd on Tuesday said she and Ekberg had been friends when they first became neighbors a few years ago, but the bird feeding has come between them.

Dodd said she now has reduced the number of feeders in her yard and only spreads seed on the ground every other day. But she said she’s not been able to clean up the bird droppings because of the cold weather, snow and ice.

The city’s Ciabatti said his office has sent the landlords two notices to inform them that they are in violation of the city’s housing code for rental properties, and the city is about to send a third and final notice, he said. He said the matter appears headed to court.

From her side of the property line, Ekberg told the council that nothing has changed at her neighbor’s property since the city initiated actions in recent weeks to attempt to lessen the amount of bird feces and the health risk next door to Ekberg.

City Council member Vernon, who was one of the leaders of the council’s push in 2013 to clamp down on nuisance properties, on Tuesday said the bird-feeding dispute "sounds a little goofy," but she said the city’s new focus on nuisances allows the city’s staff "to go to work" on what Vernon called a "health hazard."

Vernon said the central tenet of the city’s nuisance abatement effort is that neighbors like Ekberg are entitled to the "quiet enjoyment of their property."

Council member Justin Shields, who is chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said it is "not the case at all" that the city is acting in a "heavy-handed" manner in taking action against what the city sees as bird feeding taken to an extreme.

"It’s not safe for children or anyone else," Shields said.

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