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Ordinance governs local yards— ‘Managed prairie’ defined

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Some homeowners may opt to adjust their lawn care practices this summer, as Village Council recently passed a revamped village law that updates the rules governing local yards.

A “Removal of Plants and Weeds by Owner” law was previously on the books, but the new ordinance boasts a number of substantial updates. The biggest change is the inclusion of language outlining how residents, if they choose, may turn their yards into “managed prairies,” or naturally growing environments that include wildflowers, prairie grasses and native groundcovers. The new ordinance also expands the list of invasive plant species that must be removed from residential properties.

Homeowners were previously required to cut their grass by July 1 and keep it below 12 inches. The updated ordinance does away with the specific grass-cutting date and reduces the maximum allowable grass height from one foot to nine inches. The law’s prohibition on stagnant water, dumping and substandard structures in residential yards still stands as it was written, which is to say that those things are not allowed.
There are some prescribed legal ramifications for not following the ordinance. If grass lawns are allowed to grow unchecked or if a yard is found to be harboring invasive species, the ordinance says that homeowners could conceivably be charged with a minor misdemeanor. But Village Manager Patti Bates said that as with any zoning law, enforcement is based on neighbor complaints. The Village will not be going out and looking for violations.

The updated ordinance was passed on May 1 and went into effect on June 1.

Establishing managed prairies
Council began updating the ordinance following a re-examination of the date by which homeowners were required to start cutting their grass. The previous start date of July 1 was repealed because it was determined to be too late in the season to start cutting grass, Bates said.

From there, Council began looking into other aspects of the ordinance. Members of the Environmental Commission, a citizen group, suggested including language for developing “managed prairies,” as a number of residents have expressed interest in turning their properties into habitats for native plant growth.
Managed prairies are defined in the ordinance as an “intentionally planted and maintained area of biodiverse native vegetation” developed in one’s yard. Managed prairies employ “managed natural landscapes” such as rain gardens and butterfly gardens to facilitate plant growth and provide an environment for pollinators and small animals.

“If you choose to have something other than grass, you can plant species that would be here if the land were able to develop naturally,” said Bates.

Villager Duard Headley’s property is a managed prairie, the second such project he’s undertaken in 10 years. He uses a mix of seed that includes three native grasses and approximately 20 different native flower species. He created a prairie in the interest of attracting pollinators and reducing his personal carbon footprint, as he doesn’t use herbicides or internal combustion engines in the maintenance of his property. The extensive root systems of prairie grasses and flowers also help with carbon sequestration, he said, both absorbing carbon dioxide and storing it underground. Additionally, the yard prairie attracts numerous insects and birds.

“It’s alive and just beautiful,” Headley said. “It makes for a different aesthetic than a mowed yard.”
Updates to invasive species list

Bates said she is unsure how many residences in the village have reworked their yards into managed prairies, but the ordinance permits anyone in the village to transform their yard into a prairie provided they regularly weed and keep out invasives.

The new ordinance specifically requires that homeowners excise eight invasive species completely from their properties, including purple loosestrife, Canada thistle, tree-of-heaven and Japanese knotweed, with the ordinance “strongly suggesting” that homeowners develop a management plan for a further 20 species.

Nick Boutis, executive director of Glen Helen, helped advise Council on the updated list of invasive plant species. The previous list was generic and dealt primarily with species harmful to agricultural lands, he said, and did not anticipate potential invasives or some invasive species that can flourish within the village.

The ordinance mandates the removal of some other plants that aren’t necessarily invasive but are generally bad for humans. Ragweed must be removed, for example, because of its role in exacerbating hay fever, and poison ivy must be removed as well, as Boutis said it is “wonderful for wildlife but very bad for people.”

Keeping yards trim
According to Bates, the Village can technically fine homeowners for not cutting their grass. If a situation gets too overgrown, the Village will send in its own crew to cut a homeowner’s grass and bill the homeowner in the form of assessing it to one’s property taxes, she said.

But fortunately for both the local government and area residents, Village enforcement of the lawnmowing requirements is something that almost never happens. Unlike the town where Bates previously worked, where she said she’d send out “hundreds” of official “cut your grass” notices to homeowners each week, she can’t recall ever having to compel someone in Yellow Springs to cut his or her grass. Villagers are pretty good about maintaining their yards, she said, and she doesn’t anticipate having to enforce the ordinance.
The new ordinance outlines requirements for keeping yards nice and trim, but it also facilitates the desires of residents who want to use their yards to foster a connection with the world around them. Many people “think of their yards as an extension of the Glen,” Boutis said, “and would like to view their property as a habitat.” The new ordinance helps give official shape to these ambitions, guided by professional insight.


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