Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sustainable yard committee offers sanity to code-enforcement decisions

The Morning News

Local News for Northwest Arkansas

Fayetteville Wants Neat Yards, Sort Of
By Skip Descant
The Morning News
FAYETTEVILLE - The finer points of lawn maintenance, such as hairstyles or fashion, is anything but cut and dry.

Which is why one of Fayetteville's newest city-organized committees - the Sustainable Yard Maintenance Committee - is working to draft an ordinance to give the code enforcement department clearer direction regarding which front yards need a visit from the lawn mower and which ones can remain somewhat unkempt.

"Some of those naturalized landscapes look very nice and we don't want to prohibit that," said Bernie Kurz, who works with the Washington County Extension office and serves on the sustainable yard committee.

"Some people have really nice vegetable gardens in their front yards - not a lot - but a few," said Lisa Netherland, who serves on the committee. "And then other people will have these beautiful English cottage gardens."

City code doesn't particularly allow for some of these natural landscape schemes. Once grass gets taller than eight inches, property owners can be cited by the city, said John Coleman, Fayetteville sustainability coordinator, and the Sustainable Yard Maintenance Committee chairman.

But with the committee in the early stages - Tuesday was its third meeting - a large part of the work involves sifting through and defining the proposed ordinance language.

For example, what's the difference between "noxious plants" and "evasive plants." Luckily, half of that job has already been done. State law identifies the following non-native plants as noxious and are banned: purple loosestrife, giant salvia, water Hyacinth and Japanese blood grass.

Clearly defining what qualifies as controlled nature and what's simply neglect will be up to the committee as it slogs through these types of discussions in the coming weeks before the draft gets legal review and ultimately hits the front steps of the city council.

"That's how this all started," said Coleman. "We don't have solid language of what constitutes a managed yard."

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