Mark Fischenich: Ask Us: Tacky or not, garbage carts don't need to be hidden in Mankato

·4 min read

Jul. 10—Q: I'm a resident of Mankato, living in the hilltop area not far from East High School. When we came to town 48 years ago, they suggested we should put our garbage can and our other containers either in the garage or on the side of the garage. But I see many people in our area have their garbage cans in front of their garage or in front of their boat or by their boat or by their trailer out in the driveway and it's really tacky.

I wonder if there's any city code on that. Or should there be a city code on that? Because it really looks pretty tacky for a city. Some homeowner associations require that they have to put their garbage can in their garage or on the side of the house. So I'm wondering if you can look into that for me. But in our area, it really looks tacky.

A: There is a city ordinance related to storage of garbage carts and recycling carts, but it's not as strict as the reader would like.

First, carts can't be left on the curb for more than 42 hours. They can be rolled out at 6 p.m. the night before a neighborhood's garbage-pickup day. And the emptied carts can remain there only until noon the day after pickup. People who leave them out there longer could face a surcharge.

That leaves another 126 hours each week where the carts have to be stashed somewhere else.

"After garbage and recycling is collected, remove cart from curb and store it inside a building (for example, a garage) or behind the required front yard setback," Mankato's municipal website advises.

The part about the front-yard setback is more than advice. City code requires the carts to be behind the setback — the line parallel to the front lot line that represents the closest point a structure can be built on that lot. Community Development Director Paul Vogel said some homes are built right up to that front-yard setback while other homes are, in their entirety or in part, farther back than required. In those latter homes, the carts can legally be facing the street.

And in the reader's neighborhood, if the garages are set back farther than the front of the house, then the carts could be stored in front of the garage or in that portion of the driveway — tacky or not.

Vogel noted that in 2014, when Mankato was about to add recycling carts to its traditional garbage carts, city staff proposed new rules requiring the carts to be hidden.

"Whatever issues we have today, we're going to have twice as many," said Pat Hentges, who was city manager/lord back in those days.

In a Free Press story from Oct. 13 of that year, Hentges said the ordinance was drafted broadly to allow infinite options for homeowners. All the proposed ordinance required was that the carts could not be seen from the street. So the homeowners could put the carts in a garage, they could put them in the back yard, they could plant shrubs around the carts, they could construct a subterranean storage area with an elevator, they could invent a cloaking device, they could hire a really large guy to stand in front of the carts ... .

"I think we'll leave it up to the ingenuity of the property owner ...," Hentges said.

But several residents could think of no good option for stashing their carts out of sight because of narrow lots, hillsides, retaining walls and other issues. Others said they would have to shovel a path through the snow to their backyard to avoid violating the rules.

And one woman said hiding the trash cart in the garage didn't pass the smell test.

"I have a 1-year-old son and the garbage is really, really stinky," she said.

"So at that time, the council declined to make any changes," Vogel said before giving the advice that Hentges habitually tossed out in every appearance in the Ask Us column. "As always, if you're having a concern, call 311 or 387-8600."

Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, 418 S. Second St., Mankato, MN 56001. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to mfischenich@mankatofreepress.com; put Ask Us in the subject line.