Some associations targeting fake turf

Courtesy of the Las Vegas Sun
By Heather Rawlyk and Jean Reid Norman
Published April 16, 2004 
When Kevin Peltier had synthetic turf professionally installed in the front lawn of his Summerlin home, he felt that he was helping to preserve the desert's most precious commodity: water.

But two days after the turf was installed, Peltier received a letter from the Summerlin North Community Association that stated the synthetic lawn was "an unapproved condition" and must be removed immediately.

"I can't win," said Peltier, who installed the new generation of artificial turf that has varying lengths of "grass" and looks fairly real. "When I had sod in the front yard, I received letters because the grass was brown or yellow. I installed the synthetic lawn and now I'm getting letters because it may be too green."

Peltier's small attempt to save water created a large controversy among Summerlin North residents, where homeowners have mixed opinions as to whether installing artificial grass in front lawns should be allowed in their community.

While some residents believe artificial lawns are "tacky," others, like Peltier, insist synthetic turf provides an answer to the valley's water woes, while maintaining the beauty and quality of the community.

It's a bigger problem as the artificial turf keeps getting better and looking more realistic. Gone are the days of a bright green rug.

The controversy is not limited to Summerlin, according to Eldon Hardy, the state ombudsman for common interest communities. His office gets complaints from all over the Las Vegas Valley from homeowners who have been told to take out their artificial turf.

"I'm a little frustrated with the attitude of some of the associations," Hardy said. "I could appreciate it if we weren't in a drought condition, where everybody could have real grass for nothing."

Right now less than 10 percent of the 1,000 to 1,200 calls a month his office gets relate to artificial turf, he said, but he expects that to increase this summer, when heat and water restrictions provide a deadly mix to lawns.

"I'm looking fearfully at how many complaints we will get this summer because people are going to be fined because their grass is brown and they're watering when they're allowed to," he said.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority, which has set limits to watering because of a drought alert, is encouraging residents to replace real grass with desert landscaping through its "Water Smart" program, which pays homeowners $1 per square yard to replace turf, spokeswoman Tracy Bower said. Artificial grass is now accepted as an alternative to rock or other mulch, but live plants are still required in a yard, she said.

But many homeowners associations, though he did not have an exact count, have rules that ban fake grass, Hardy said. In many of those communities, the association laws were written 10 or 20 years ago, when water seemed plentiful, "and the developer wants a nice green strip," he said.

That many years ago, Kevin Ruth, president-elect of the Community Associations Institute, said, "artificial turf meant indoor-outdoor carpet."

In those days, he said, "You could never have predicted that people would even consider putting artificial turf in their front lawns. Some developers are now offering it as an option." The drought restrictions also prohibit real grass from being planted in front yards.

In other cases, Ruth said, a developer just adopted a boilerplate set of homeowners association rules without paying attention to restrictions such as artificial turf.

"They don't recognize the impact of what they've done by providing poorly written CC&Rs," he said, referring to homeowner association rules called covenants, conditions and restrictions.

Changing those can be tough, Hardy and Ruth agreed.

It generally requires a vote of two-thirds of a neighborhood's homeowners, Ruth said.

"To get two-thirds of the people to do anything is difficult," Ruth said. The alternative is to get the Legislature to override the homeowner association rules with state law, as it did last year when it said flagpoles could not be banned from neighborhoods.

Peltier has asked the Summerlin North community to change its rules, and on Wednesday evening delegates met at the Trails Community Center to discuss the proposal.

"Summerlin has taken an active approach to this growing (water) problem by not allowing sod to be planted in the front yards of future new home developments within the Summerlin community," Peltier said. "In my eyes, it seems very contradictory to ask me to remove a product which conserves a considerable amount of potable water, uses less energy with little to no maintenance, and does not pollute the environment with fertilizers and other chemicals."

Hal Broch, Summerlin North Community Association president, provided attendees with a list of pros and cons of artificial turf.

While Broch credited synthetic lawns with decreasing water usage and reducing the maintenance on the part of the homeowner, his list of cons was longer.

"We've always allowed it in the back and side of the homes in the neighborhoods, but in the front yard it's a visual issue," he said.

Broch agreed that artificial turf allows homeowners to maintain a "definite green coloration to a yard," but said the bright green color looks too green to be real.

"It's similar to the dentist when you go in to get veneers," he said. "If you look on the white chart and get the ones all the way to the left, the next time you smile, people are going to know they aren't real."

Peltier argues that the turf he chose for his lawn is the highest quality and most lifelike product available from SynLawn, the company that advertises its services in Summerlin's "S" magazine with a picture depicting a front yard.

"This turf model, SynBlue, consists of a blend of different material fibers, with varying colors, strand sizes and textures," he said. "It has been professionally installed with no seams, rough edges, or other visible clues that is anything but real grass."

Peltier adds that his neighbors have all complimented his artificial lawn.

"They have all had nothing but great things to say about it," he said. "They especially complimented it when it was winter and their grass was brown and mine was still green."

But Broch said not all turf has an appealing look and there would be no way to regulate which turf is "good turf" and which turf is "bad turf."

Not all homeowners will have the turf professionally installed, causing aesthetic problems, he said.

"And where does the use of approvable plastic landscaping material stop?" Broch said. "Will the use of plastic plants and trees be proposed? Let's not go to a plastic paradise."

Broch said that allowing homeowners, such as Peltier, to keep their artificial lawn would "let the genie out of the bottle."

Kevin Wiggins, a SynLawn representative present at the meeting, fired back.

"This is Las Vegas," he said. "Believe me, the genie is already out of the bottle."

Wiggins said SynLawn has several customers in the Summerlin North community who have their product installed in their back yards and wish to have it installed in the front.

SynLawn has also installed artificial turf at the Bellagio, the Orleans and Caesars Palace, and worked closely with Pardee Homes and KB Homes.

"We're working with the city of Las Vegas and putting it in public places," he said. "So it being a visible issue shouldn't matter."

At the end of the night, delegates agreed to go to their designated communities and get opinions from homeowners as to whether they would agree to allow artificial lawns to be installed in front yards before they take a vote.

Peltier said if the Summerlin North Community Association votes against allowing artificial turf in his front yard, he will willingly remove it.

"I won't refuse to move it, but I'm going to try to not let it get to that," he said. "I don't know what I'll put instead. I guess my only other option is rocks."