Community targets homeowner's drought-tolerant plants

Editorial Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

Published December 11, 2010

Ditching thirsty grass for drought-tolerant plants and mulch might be considered Florida friendly in some locales, just not in one Bayonet Point neighborhood. In Beacon Woods (where else?) homeowner James Gahagan is butting heads with the deed restriction enforcers who say his new landscaping is improper.

This shouldn't be a surprise. Beacon Woods was one of the neighborhoods with such high water use, it attracted a Pasco utilities department predawn crackdown on illegal watering in 2008. That came just a month after a homeowner there landed in jail after failing to resod his brown lawn.

The community's aggressive enforcement of its lush-lawn requirement has now entangled Gahagan, who, following the intent of a 2009 state statue, put down Florida-friendly landscaping after the neighborhood was slow to develop its own rules to comply with Florida law.

Beacon Woods, like some other deed restricted neighborhoods, require property owners to maintain green lawns. Such a rule is included in covenants to protect the eye appeal and accompanying property values within a community. The original motive is understandable, but homeowner groups now must recognize the Legislature's 2009 intent to encourage drought-resistant landscaping and to prohibit neighborhoods from promoting excessive water use. The goal of Florida-friendly plants, as defined by the University of Florida, is to provide attractive landscaping while reducing the use of water, pesticides and fertilizers.

In Beacon Woods, Gahagan drew the civic association's ire for not seeking its permission before replanting. Gahagan argued there are no rules to follow since the neighborhood has yet to set new standards a year and a half after the Legislature acted. It's an imperative point. Even if Gahagan had applied for permission, how could the association legally say ''no'' since it has no criteria to guide it?

Here's an idea: Instead of bullying Gahagan with threatening letters, the civic association should acquiesce and applaud his move to save water and protect the environment. If homeowners approve proposed new deed restrictions spelling out the allowable amounts and locations of the drought-resistant plants, those can serve as the standards in the future.

Expecting a homeowner to adhere to rules that aren't in place is an abuse of authority and counterproductive to Florida's desire to curb unnecessary water use.

Beacon Woods, homeowner clash over landscaping change