Out of Control Policy Blog

War on grass and hedges and fences and big houses

Bad news for fake lawn enthusiast and would-be entrepreneur Greg Cooper:

    Fake lawns, he recently found out, might be perfectly illegal here. As you read this, the city of St. Petersburg is trying to figure out what is to become of the Cooper savannah. City code enforcers generally prefer their lawns to be natural and mowable.

    Meanwhile, as summer rains pound west-central Florida daily, real lawns grow an inch overnight. On Saturday morning the city comes alive with the roar of lawn mowers.

    But not at the Cooper adobe. The Coopers prefer drinking coffee, eating doughnuts and watching television in air-conditioned comfort on Saturday mornings. Marley, the family dog named after a reggae musician who appreciated a different kind of grass, is the only Cooper at all interested in lawns, real or otherwise. The black lab enjoys rolling around on the plastic stuff, but also uses it for reasons other than play.

    "No problem," Cooper says. "You just hose it off."
    ...
    By some accounts, 5,000 U.S. homeowners have replaced natural lawns with plastic ones. No figures are available for Florida, but experts say artificial grass is a new phenomenon, until recently seen only on athletic fields.

    "Synthetic turfs are better now than they used to be," says Grady Miller, a UF scientist who specializes in the real stuff. "But a lot of communities don't know what to make of it."

    In 2002, a Palm Harbor woman was ordered by her deed-restricted community to remove her new $5,000 faux lawn. When Ed Ehlen installed $17,000 worth of artificial grass at his $4-million home at Marco Island last year, city leaders ordered Ehlen to remove it, citing environmental concerns including aesthetics and water runoff.

    "This isn't Astroturf," Waterless Grass guru Bruce Swift says. "This is state of the art. Today's artificial turf is permeable. Rain runs right through it. You don't have to water it. You don't need pesticides. You don't clog the landfill with lawn clippings. It's the future."

And in Santa Monica some residents got peeved when officials suddenly began to enforce a 1948 ordinance that limited fences and hedges in front yards of private houses to 42 inches and side and rear fences and hedges to eight feet:

    Most residents were unaware of the ordinance and were disturbed and angered by the City's sudden enforcement of it. Their anger was compounded by the City's Compliance Order letters, which stated that unless outsized hedges were cut back to comply with the 42-inch limit, their owners would be fined $25,000 per day with a maximum of $500,000. According to the City, the letter was incorrect and the fine should have been $2,500 a day, but residents were not mollified, and continued to protest.

Council member Bobby Shriver [that's Shriver] had some ordinance-violating hedges himself. But the forces of petty tyranny were so strong that even he could only manage a wussy, semi-victory:

    Front yard hedge and fence heights will remain at 42 inches and side and back yard fence height limits will continue to be eight feet, but side and back yard hedges can now grow up to 12 feet, and hedges on side and back yards that are adjacent to alleys will have no height limits.

    In a key compromise, the revised ordinance "grandfathers" existing hedges, fences and walls that are taller than the mandated heights.

    However, "grandfathering" of a hedge, fence or wall may be appealed by an immediate neighbor, if the appeal is heard by the City's Planning Commission within 60 days after the new ordinance takes effect and the appellant can demonstrate that the hedge, fence or wall adversely affects him or her.

Head North a bit and the control freaks get even freakier:

    With real estate prices at an all-time high and little vacant property left to develop, builders are increasingly buying up older houses simply for the land. They demolish the old structure and build larger homes with the square footage and amenities that command top dollar.

    Buyers say the new homes give them the luxury and space they crave, but critics complain the giant houses are ruining the character of the existing community.

    Burbank and Glendale have already adopted rules to limit large new homes that loom over their bungalow- and ranch-style neighbors.

    The Los Angeles City Council will consider an emergency anti-mansionization ordinance Wednesday for Sunland-Tujunga, which would ban homes larger than 2,400 square feet, as well as those with square footage that is more than 40 percent of the lot size.

    Neighborhood groups in Valley Village and Valley Glen are developing similar regulations.

My fellow humans, what have we become?

Ted Balaker is Producer


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