The pendulum can swing two ways when it comes to turfgrass regulations, and sometimes they’re both in the wrong direction.
When I read that a governing body wants to ban lawns based on misinformation or pressure from outside interests for quick-fix solutions I’m quick to come to the defense of turfgrass and lawns, mostly because of all the environmental benefits natural grass has to offer.
Oftentimes such restrictions are a reflex reaction to circumstances that, like the weather, can change over a short period of time. But once regulations are set in motion and become “the law of the land” reversing those decisions can take time, especially in light of local, state or federal bureaucratic infighting or indecision.
Laws that restrict turfgrass areas without any rational reason, without consulting any turfgrass specialists or without reviewing scientific research before they are passed, is a disservice to the public. Not taking into account the many benefits turfgrass provides to our environment, or the possible long term environmental consequences of hastily made decisions, also is troubling.
Educating the public on water conservation, proper use of fertilizers, best management practices, etc., would prevent, if not eliminate, many such laws or regulations from ever being passed in the first place.
Just as disturbing — from an objective point of view — would be any ordinance or law that would swing the pendulum to the other extreme and require that homeowners must have turfgrass.
For example, the city of St. Peters in St. Charles County, Missouri, has an ordinance that requires a minimum of 50 percent of all yard areas be comprised of turfgrass. The ruling, in part, reads as follows:
Chapter 405 Zoning & Subdivision Regulations – Section 405.390 Landscaping & Screening A-4 states in part: “All landscaping shall be properly maintained according to City ordinances presently in effect. A minimum of fifty percent (50%) of all yard areas shall be comprised of turfgrass.”
The Freedom Center of Missouri has challenged the constitutionality of this law on behalf of one family. The wife suffers from a severe allergy to grass pollen and the family had requested an exemption from the ruling for health reasons. Her request for an exemption was dismissed by a trial court.
It’s not as if this family has neglected landscaping — quite the contrary. Several years ago they removed all the grass from their yard and began converting it into a large, well-tended flower garden that includes a landscaped hillside and flowers blooming from multiple mulched planting areas that are interspersed with walkways, sitting areas and small ponds. For the wife who suffers from the allergy it was a relief to have limited exposure to grass pollen.
The Freedom Center argues the city’s turfgrass mandate violates both the U.S. Constitution and the Missouri Constitution. Dave Roland, its director of litigation, said he was “not aware of any court in the entire country that has allowed a city to force its citizens involuntarily to grow government-dictated plants in government-dictated locations around the citizens’ homes. The city is unconstitutionally assuming authority to make decisions that properly belong to the homeowners, and we intend to nip it in the bud.”
This month the Missouri Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments suggesting the trial court should not have dismissed the case. Let’s hope that the appeals court demonstrates some rational judgement. The banning of lawns and/or making a lawn a required percentage of the overall landscape are both extreme measures. No one is suggesting the appeals court needs to have the Wisdom of Solomon in making the right decision, we’re just hoping they try to be a little smarter than a fifth grader before passing judgment.