A Victory for Sustainability (albeit a little one)

You may recall my post on the need for municipalities to become more sustainable in their interpretation of land use issues. That blog pertained to a court case between neighbors over a natural area being grown by one party and the neighbor wanting a traditional lawn. The Township cited the owner with the natural area and the case ended up in municipal court.

Well, the decision is in! The natural area has won a small victory and the owner is Not Guilty!

I applaud the decision of not guilty, but when you read the details of the decision, it was literally decided on the technical merits of the complaint, not on the substance of the matter. In brief, the court determined that there was no objective standard within the Township Code that was cited in the beginning of the case. The Judge further noted that …

“the Girvan’s decided to discontinue attempting to maintain a traditional suburban lawn in a flood prone portion of their property in favor of what has been described as a “riparian meadow.” That gardening choice displeased certain neighbors and the Zoning Officer employed the only section of the Township Code, which appeared to address the situation through its prohibition on “obnoxious growths.”

Those two words, “obnoxious growths,” provide for tremendous subjectivity and for the possibility of wide disagreement among reasonable people about aesthetic choices. There is simply no objective enforcement standards to apply to the facts in this case….”

Boy is that true. In another part of the decision, it was noted that “…Deborah Pigna, a neighbor, who can observe the unmowed portion of the Girvan property from her adjacent deck. Mrs. Pigna testified that the growth on the Girvan property was obnoxious…” Different people have different values.

Can you imagine if the defendants in this case filed a suit against the original complainants because they were causing water pollution with the pesticides that they might be using on their “normal” lawn? I wonder what the reaction would be to that in the Township? After all, I find that algal blooms in lakes and streams are obnoxious, and, much of that problem can be traced to the fertilizers used on the “normal” lawn.

The fact is we have seen the value of keeping areas in a natural state. The recent Super Storm Sandy has shown us that those areas such as sand dunes, wetlands (with their wild obnoxious growths of different plants) and river corridors that are kept in their natural state protected the homes of those living behind or near them.

Wet Lands

Those areas that were “normal” and maintained in a labor intensive, man made system were damaged or destroyed

Maybe there is a lesson here?

I will leave this with one last observation. A few years ago a movement started in Maplewood, New Jersey where people were being encouraged to turn their front lawns into vegetable gardens. And do you know what? No one received a summons in spite of what might be deemed by some as obnoxious growths unmowed plants.

Congratulations to the defendants…..

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