City orders boulevard gardeners to switch native plants with Astroturf

Breadcrumb Trail Links Local News Author of the article: Doug Schmidt Publishing date: Jul 30, 2021  •  5 days ago  •  3 minute read  •  38 Comments Removal order. Rob Thibert is shown in front of his home in the 1300 block of Victoria Avenue in Windsor on Friday, July 30, […]

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Barely a week after a Victoria Avenue homeowner proudly showed off his front garden filled with native plants to a group of cyclists on an Explore Your City tour, Rob Thibert got a registered letter from the city ordering him to remove a good chunk of it.

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The public works department’s “order to comply” instructed him to “remove personal property from the public right of way … and reinstate boulevard to the City of Windsor standards.”

Those standards, he and wife Beth Hanes were advised, include “no landscaping, with the exception of grass and artificial turf.”

The July 26 official order by registered mail was also delivered to three of his immediate neighbours in the 1300 block of Victoria Avenue.

What irks Thibert and his neighbours most is the suggestion that the city would prefer they replace their carefully designed and planted native gardens — requiring little to no watering, no chemicals and almost no maintenance — with a layer of plastic fake grass.

Artificial turf aside, said Thibert’s next-door neighbour Norm Stangl, regular lawn grass is “a relatively unsavoury product — you have to water it, cut it, fertilize it and apply herbicides for weeds.”

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Thibert said his garden contains native plants that feed butterflies and beneficial insects, absorb rainfall runoff and are colourful and attractive. Dill attracts black swallowtails and lavender is used by Hanes to make tea.

Judith McCullough is shown Friday in front of her heritage home in the 1300 block of Victoria Avenue in Windsor. She received one of the “Order to Comply” notices that came from the city by registered mail and ordering her to “remove personal property along the public right of way.” She recently laid decorative flagstone between the sidewalk and roadway in front of her property.
Judith McCullough is shown Friday in front of her heritage home in the 1300 block of Victoria Avenue in Windsor. She received one of the “Order to Comply” notices that came from the city by registered mail and ordering her to “remove personal property along the public right of way.” She recently laid decorative flagstone between the sidewalk and roadway in front of her property. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Thibert’s garden, mostly low-lying plants, doesn’t encroach onto the sidewalk or street and has attracted compliments for years. He said neighbours have begun emulating that effort, replacing lawn space with native plants and flowers.

One of the acceptable alternatives the municipality has suggested to the four property owners on Victoria Avenue, aside from grass, is artificial turf.

“Astroturf is a plastic product — it will end up in the landfill, and it’s a source of the microplastics that are getting into our environment and into what we consume,” said Thibert.

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The neighbours have sent emails and left messages with the city and their councillor, Ward 3’s Rino Bortolin, but told the Star Friday they’ve yet to hear back. For one thing, said Stangl, they want clarification on exactly what the city’s enforcement staff finds so unacceptable.

Contacted on a camping trip Friday, Bortolin said he’s contacted public works and asked the department to hold off on any enforcement action until he can sit down with the neighbours and discuss possible alternatives with administration.

“I’m definitely not a fan of Astroturf — let’s meet and see what’s reasonable,” he told the Star.

As with city bylaw enforcement, Windsor’s public works department, which supervises public rights of way, responds to citizen’s complaints, and Bortolin said that was the case here. Six years ago, a similar spate of complaints covering boulevard gardens in Olde Walkerville triggered dozens of enforcement orders.

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We have a hard time celebrating beauty in our city at times

But esthetics aside, advocates of lawn alternatives like native plant gardens argue the times have changed and so too should Windsor’s bylaws. In recent years, in recognition of the consequences of climate change challenges like flooding, Windsor has enacted such policies as an environmental master plan, a climate change adaptation plan and a community energy plan, with every administrative report now having a climate risk analysis attached.

“Analyzing bylaws through the lens of the climate emergency Windsor has declared is absolutely key at this point,” said Anneke Smit, director of the Windsor Law Centre for Cities. “It’s political will — we have to decide that a climate emergency is actually an emergency.”

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Rob Thibert is shown outside his home in the 1300 block of Victoria Avenue on Friday. He recently welcomed visitors to his garden as part of an Explore the City tour. Shortly after that, he received an order by the city to remove plants and “personal property” from the front of his property.
Rob Thibert is shown outside his home in the 1300 block of Victoria Avenue on Friday. He recently welcomed visitors to his garden as part of an Explore the City tour. Shortly after that, he received an order by the city to remove plants and “personal property” from the front of his property. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Judith McCullough, another Victoria Avenue neighbour who received a compliance order, said her grass lawn was getting “unsightly” and she decided to also switch to plants that would absorb rainfall runoff and require less maintenance. She’s convinced mono-culture lawns will soon become a thing of the past and be outlawed in cities.

“The only thing we water here is the tree when we have a long drought,” said Hanes. “We don’t even have a lawnmower.”

Drive down the length of Victoria Avenue, said Stangl, and there are probably 200 other properties that contravene the letter of the current bylaw. Within the neighbourhood, “you could literally come up with thousands of others,” he added.

“Is this still an appropriate approach in 2021?” said Smit. “The irony is, here’s something beautiful, drawing visitors — we have a hard time celebrating beauty in our city at times.”

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twitter.com/schmidtcity

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