Don't they know we are in a drought?

Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

By Marlene Sokol

May 1, 2009

George Acorn lives in Riverview's Riverglen subdivision.

And yes, Acorn is his real name. "Like the nut," he tells people.

Maybe he isn't all that nutty.

Like many in these parts, Acorn is looking at the parched landscape and dry stream beds and apartment buildings that sit vacant while builders keep pouring concrete and he asks:

Does insanity have no limit?

He wonders how homeowner associations can enforce standards on turfgrass in year three of the worst drought anybody can remember.

"There's got to be some way we can stop feeding this incessant weed that we call grass," he said.

Several months ago, when the Southwest Florida Water Management District said you couldn't replace lawn sod, the agency offered to intervene if any homeowner association got lawyerish on people who were doing their part to conserve water.

Swiftmud has helped mediate some such cases, said spokeswoman Robyn Felix. And associations seem to be taking a measured policy toward lawns.

"If it's just gone brown, we have not been sending out letters," Doug Hartnagel, president of New Tampa's Arbor Greene Homeowner Association said after the city of Tampa toughened its restrictions even more. But, Hartnagel went on to say, his group does not stand by and allow someone to neglect a lawn until dirt and weeds take over.

And Swiftmud fears more association activity in the summer, when its orders expire.

"What we are hearing is that the homeowner associations are waiting until June 30," Felix said. "That's problematic, because we are still going to need everybody to conserve."

Some communities have been proactive in adapting to a limited water supply. Tampa Palms got out in front of the issue years ago by allowing a greater variety of ground covers. Homeowner Randy Marlowe, who serves on the community's taxing district board, has replaced much of his lawn with vetiver an Indian shrub that also deters termites and two kinds of jasmine. With walkways and bromeliad beds appearing in his landscape, he estimates he is down to 40 percent turf.

"We still have an area of grass because we have two collies, and well, you know ," he said.

Elsewhere, conservation is a relatively new concept.

Back in 1999, when Acorn moved into Riverglen, he said, "I didn't give it that much thought, because we weren't in a drought then."

Now he wishes he could let his lawn go natural, like the conservation area behind his property.

He recognizes that deed restrictions are legal documents that associations are required to uphold. "I understand there is a line someplace," he said.

"But the documents also used to say you couldn't put up a television antenna, and then the federal government intervened."

Acorn came to us as a result of an unrelated article about mailboxes in Cheval. The mailbox piece struck a chord with a lot of readers who find deed restrictions and homeowner associations silly and petty.

The associations will say, and rightly so, that nobody forces anyone to live in such a place.

Still, this business of a green lawn has even more homeowners rethinking the concept. Said Acorn, "If we ever leave this house, we will never move into a deed restricted place again."