In the city, homeowners generally understood that the area between the sidewalk and the street doesn't necessarily belong to them.
Though you have to mow the area and clear the snow off the sidewalk, you can’t plant a tree without permission, or plop down a boulder or build a fence.
However, the county right of way isn’t as neatly defined. And sometimes people build beautiful but dangerous projects next to the road, says County Engineer Pam Dingman.
One homeowner had to remove a beautifully crafted brick fence on West Pella Road.
Another creative homeowner built a fence over a culvert that kept his cattle in the pasture, but could be lifted when there were no cattle occupying the field.
And another rural homeowner put a wall along his driveway, which extended right up to the county road.
County staff are currently working with a homeowner who recently purchased a house with a large koi pond in the front yard that often pools onto the county road, saturating the pavement, which could eventually lead to deterioration of the road.
The county attorney is sending a letter to a property owner who has refused to fill in a newly expanded pond that extends into the county right of way, informing him that the county will remove the pond and bill him if he doesn’t do it himself.
“If you saturate the soil under the road, then it loses its ability to support the road,” said Dingman. “You start getting cracks and pavement failure.”
The county right of way extends from 33 feet to 60 feet on either side of the middle of the road, usually extending beyond the roadside ditch.
In the city, the sidewalk is often viewed as the dividing line, but the right of way extends to the homeowners' property line, which is often beyond the sidewalk into the front lawn.
The county controls and sometimes owns the right of way, and allows nothing but mailboxes in that area, primarily for safety considerations, and also to protect the road itself.
Because vehicles can veer off the road, the right of way needs to be free of everything except mailboxes, Dingman said.
That includes trees. The county is constantly cleaning volunteer trees and brush from the right of way, she said.
It also includes fencing. And some residents get very creative with their fencing, Dingman said.
One homeowner had to remove a fence and swing set that sat almost on the edge of the gravel county road, a potential target for wayward vehicles.
“You are required to have a clear zone for safety, so a driver can recover and get back onto the road," Dingman said.
The engineer’s staff tries to convince property owners to remove anything that is an obstacle or hazard in the right of way, first by gentle persuasion and — if necessary — by official action.
Most people, though not happy, understand and remove obstacles. Others respond to letters from the engineer. But several times each year, the county board and county attorney’s office must offer property owners a choice: remove the obstacle, or the county will remove it and bill the owner.
“We try to coordinate with the landowner before we get to the point where we have to start a legal process,” said Dingman.
Mailboxes can also pose a danger to speeding cars, she said, adding that the county engineer's office is developing a mailbox policy this winter and will begin asking homeowners to replace dangerous mailboxes with mailboxes that have a breakaway post system.
The new regulations are being developed after a homeowner put his mailbox on two six-by-six boards stuck in a barrel filled with rocks, and another had a mailbox with a buzz saw blade hanging above it, a decorative item that the county determined had to be removed.