Blight or an eco-friendly front yard? Stamford seeks to change rules to allow ‘managed meadows’

STAMFORD – Melanie Hollas made sure the flowerbeds outside her Glenbrook home looked harmless to the untrained eye.

“It seems, to a normal passer-by … that I have a really nice garden in my front yard,” Hollas said. It’s all by design. She wanted to show her community that having a meadow in the front yard could be manageable, even wonderful. And if the Council of Representatives updates the city’s rules, more Stamfordites could follow its lead.

The Council of Representatives is set to pass updates to the city’s blight ordinance, which will simplify the cultivation of front yard meadows in the process.

The order, led by Rep. Nina Sherwood, D-8, was unanimously approved by the operations committee last week after first being introduced in March. The full board will vote on the final language at its meeting on Monday.

By defining front yard meadows, city officials will make it a valid exception to scorch citations, which are currently in place to penalize homeowners with neglected lawns.

But according to Hollas – who co-chairs Pollinator Pathways Stamford, a community group dedicated to creating a safer city for creatures like birds, bats, butterflies and bees – the real push for this change started before the pandemic and has been getting stronger for years. .

His group wants to add to the network of various plants that serve as habitats and food sources for wildlife, hence grasslands. According to Pollinator Pathways Stamford, these lawn alternatives also reduce the amount of fertilizer residents use and the amount of property maintenance they need to do, as the meadows are only mowed once a year.

Hollas argues that “managed natural grassland landscapes,” as the burn ordinance might call them, are more than just eco-friendly — they’re also just plain beautiful.

There are already other grasslands in Stamford, both natural and planned. Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Kosciuszko Park in the south and Scofieldtown Park all count as grasslands, Hollas said. His group is currently undertaking a project to restore the southernmost grassland in Kosciuszko Park, which was depleted in 2012 after Super Hurricane Sandy.

Before the Council of Representatives on Wednesday, the inherent beauty of a personal prairie became a topic of discussion. Erin McKenna, the city’s parks planner who spoke at the meeting, said her front yard meadow was a boon to nearby residents.

“My neighbors thanked me for the abundance of butterflies that are now in both of our yards,” she said.

Conventional lawns – the neat vision of suburban America – are everywhere. According to the National Association of Landscape Professionals, more than 80 percent of Americans have lawns, and a NASA study found that lawns are technically the most irrigated crop in the country.

Their ubiquity comes with substantial environmental costs.

The National Resource Defense Coalition reported that lawn care uses 200 million gallons of gasoline for mowing and 70 million pounds of pesticides annually on top of high water costs. From a climate perspective, gasoline use contributes to air pollution, and synthetic substances in pesticide runoff affect water quality downstream.

The updated scorch rules aim to reduce pollutants by clearing the way for residents to replace sod lawns with plants native to Connecticut. Although the city’s burn ordinance currently states that traditional grass must be “maintained” and that “grass, weeds, or similar growths” in a yard cannot exceed nine inches, meadows intentional would no longer be bound by these rules.

Intentionality is a key element of the new rules; the city’s definition of a front yard meadow is specific. It must be “planned, intentional, and maintained planting of primarily native grasses, wildflowers, ferns, sedges, shrubs, or trees.” Meadows cannot include weeds or invasive plants, and they must comply broadly with the safety-related parts of the Burn Ordinance.

This means there are no “unreasonable” impacts on a neighbor’s property, no interference “with the use of the public sidewalk and/or public or private street or right-of-way “, and no obstruction of essential amenities like fire hydrants or power lines.

With the new Precipice of Death ordinance, Pollinator Pathway Stamford hopes to encourage more residents to explore planted grasslands. Before penning the updates, Hollas said his group “really wanted to get a lot of people on the Pathway,” but was hesitant to pave the way for massive plague quotes.

If homeowners are penalized for front yards that would otherwise be considered overgrown, they have seven days to contact the city’s burn control officer to request an exception. Under conventional circumstances, owners have seven days to remedy any degraded condition on their properties before incurring a fine of $100 for each day the problems persist.

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