A lesson in gardening has turned into a lesson on local government for one South Williamsport family.
What was planned as a front yard garden box he built this summer now is a fiasco for Mark Aungst and his 8-year-old daughter, Megan. The 521 Fairmont Ave. homeowner was cited by the borough for having an unauthorized structure on his property that doesn't meet code, according to Rodney Heindel, borough zoning officer.
To make matters worse, Aungst said, is that he needs to pay $200 just to have his voice heard before the borough's zoning hearing board to defend himself. That appeal is set for 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 17 at borough offices, 329 W. Southern Ave.
Megan Aungst, 8, of South Williamsport, inspects some cauliflower and other vegetables in a garden box her father, Mark, built.
Aungst, a skilled carpenter and contractor by trade, built the wooden planter boxes so his daughter could experiment growing different plants and vegetables.
The situation has grown beyond that, however.
He said a neighbor lodged a complaint about the planter boxes, which led to an Oct. 15 letter from Heindel stating that Aungst needed to tear the structure down or appeal the zoning officer's decision.
"I'm extremely disappointed in the way it's being handled," Aungst said at a Nov. 12 council meeting, adding that no one from the borough ever personally contacted him about the situation.
"How does it cost me $200 to have a voice?" he said.
Aungst told council members he was being treated unfairly because he never was contacted during or after any codes enforcement investigation about the planter boxes.
The answer he got didn't satisfy him, either.
Council members said there wasn't much they could do and that he was voicing his plea before the wrong audience.
"If you don't file an appeal, it's a violation," Councilman Benjamin Landon said at the Nov. 12 meeting. "There's nothing council can do unless you file an appeal. Had you filed for a permit before you built this, it wouldn't be an issue."
Aungst said he felt discouraged that most council members chose to discount his problem and gave the impression that he was wasting their time.
He said the planter box is just that. It's not attached to his house or anchored to the ground, he said.
"It may be a elaborate, but it's a flower box. I don't live in it. I don't store my lawn mower in it," Aungst said.
Aungst, who has lived at his home for more than four years, said he and his daughter have collected about 50 signatures of support and have received numerous compliments on the garden box.
Megan said she would be devastated having to tear down the timber frame in which she grew a variety of fruits and vegetables.
"I grew four kinds of pumpkins," she said.
She also grew blackberries, blueberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, carrots, peas, cucumbers, peas, broccoli and cauliflower.
"I liked to find out what it's like to grow stuff," she said.
Larry Baker, chairman of the borough zoning hearing board, said he couldn't comment on the subject before the Dec. 17 hearing.
The elder Aungst said he's frustrated trying to wade through government bureaucracy, but he and Megan are learning about more than just gardening.
"I'm not going to let this be an example of how a neighbor can bully you. It teaches her to stand for what she believes in," he said.