Salt Lake City should revisit its ban on artificial grass and give some leniency to property owners

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Artificial turf in the yard of Matt and Jessica Broadbent in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 9, 2019.

Update: Matt and Jessica Boardman received an extension on Wednesday and now have until August 12 to remove their artificial turf. City councilor Ana Valdemoros held discussions with other council members about the council’s petition to review the urban area ordinance.

Turf wars are nothing new to city government, but what about an artificial turf war? This is exactly the fight Matt and Jessica Boardman waged.

Back in 2016, the Boardmans bought a house not far from the 9th and 9th neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, a brick bungalow with a xeriscaped courtyard and a tall tree that dropped large seed pods.

It was a headache to care for – they couldn’t rake the rocks, a fan didn’t work and in the spring weeds came through the rocks.

They considered using grass, but feared that because of the large tree it would not get enough light. And there was no way they would cut the tree. In the summer of 2017, they spent about $ 10,000 installing artificial turf – no irrigation, no weeds and easier to maintain.

“It’s the nicest yard on the whole street. It’s been like this for a few years, ”said Matt Boardman.

But in February 2018, thanks to a complaint to the city, the Boardmans received a message that they were violating the ordinance that police officers say bans artificial turf in front yards, even though I’ve read it and it’s pretty vague.

Joel Paterson, a zone administrator at the town planning bureau, said the ordinance requires live plants to be over a third of a front yard. The rest can be covered with stone, gravel or mulch, but since artificial turf is not specifically mentioned in the regulation, this is not allowed.

“I really had no reason to believe I was doing anything wrong,” said Boardman. “If you read this out of context, you would never expect that you couldn’t have artificial turf.”

For more than a year, the Boardmans have been battling the city, working with city council members to try to keep their weed. They appealed the city’s interpretation, arguing it was vague and out of date, but their appeal was dismissed in March.

Now they are at a crossroads. The city has given them until Thursday to tear out the lawn or they will be fined $ 25 every day until he’s gone.

“I don’t feel like we worked with someone in the design bureau who would take care of it and be a sensible person,” said Boardman, hoping for a last-minute extension. “I don’t want to sound rude or insensitive, but they’re like robots.”

This type of conflict with the city is unusual, but you are not alone.

About a year ago, while my friend Scott Platz was still in the hospital recovering from a serious bicycle accident, the boys from our softball team went to his house to finish the work he had started in his front yard and laid Artificial turf.

A few months later, Platz received a message that he was breaking the regulation. The city gave him time until after winter to rip it out or pay fines like the Boardmans.

“Nobody really had a good reason for that,” he said. But he stuck to it earlier this year and tore it up. All he has now is the gravel that was laid under the lawn. Aesthetically, it’s not a real improvement, but it matches the letter of the city’s zoning rules.

And then there’s Annie Hildebrandt, who lives in California but owns half a dozen rental properties just a short hop from the Boardman’s home. Watering all of those lawns was a big investment so she saved money and bought turf for a couple of years.

“Every water bill you receive says, ‘Be water side, watch out for sprinkler use,’ so it just went together. We see so much of [the turf] in California and it saves so much water, ”said Hildebrandt

This is an important point. Despite this humid summer, we still live in a desert, and water conservation and sustainability should be more than just buzzwords. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the average US family of four uses 400 gallons of water a day, 30 percent of which is used to keep lawns and gardens green. Given the drought conditions, parts of Arizona, California, and Nevada have offered incentives to homeowners to throw away their water-eating weed and replace it with either xeriscaping or artificial grass.

(BTW, any mayoral candidates who could read this: Incentives for water-efficient shipyards would be a really good idea for Salt Lake City, too.)

In fairness, there are some concerns from the city about artificial turf being legitimate. California has been researching for contaminants, although this work mainly focuses on the shredded rubber used as the base layer for sports fields – like the University of Utah soccer field.

Lawn isn’t as hospitable to birds and living things, the city says, and it gets hotter than live grass.

But the logic of the city falls apart when you consider that: when Hildebrandt pulled up the lawn from the front yard, she couldn’t get rid of it. She put it in her back yard. And the city has no restrictions. And if the boardmans don’t get their extension, they plan to rip up their lawn and give it to Matt’s brother, who, as you guessed, will be putting it in his back yard.

So if it is about pollution or heat or birds and bugs, then why is it okay in a backyard?

Ana Valdemoros, the city councilor who represents both the boardmans and the area where Hildebrandt’s rental apartments are located, said she was swayed by the city’s concerns.

“After meeting with them and figuring out some compelling reasons to do so, we realized that it may not be best for the environment,” she said. “In this case, it was really interesting to dig a little deeper and see what the real reasons were.”

Boardman claims the city’s policies are based on outdated information and need to be revised.

Here’s the good news: The city utility plans to work with Utah State University to better understand some issues related to the quality of artificial turf and rainwater, and the city plans to conduct a master plan on water conservation later this year.

Then we can better understand the costs and hopefully the benefits of artificial turf. Unfortunately, it can be too late for the boardmans with fines over their heads.

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