Chatham-Kent residents who opt to give Mother Nature a leg up by naturalizing their lawns are now free to do so.
At a recent meeting, council amended its Long Grass and Weeds bylaw to allow homeowners to plant native species – such as tall grass prairie – on their properties.
But it doesn’t mean homeowners will be allowed to let yards run amok with weeds. Property owners who choose the option must do so with intentional planting, designed to return land to its natural ecological state.
South Kent Coun. Trevor Thompson, who introduced the bylaw change, said naturalization encourages spaces for pollinators and slows water runoff into municipal drains.
Reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides is another benefit.
“The goal is to increase the amount of insects, birds and native plant species and spaces, and that I believe is something that everyone can support,” Thompson told council.
However, the councillor says he understands naturalized lawns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.
“I’ll admit it does not fit everyone’s aesthetic preferences.”
A number of delegations from residents supporting the change were outlined to council, as well as the findings of a public survey that gave the initiative overwhelming support.
Possible abuses of the new rules were also discussed. Chatham Coun. Brock McGregor asked for clarification on the meaning of infestation and how such a problem would be managed.
Director of Public Works Ryan Brown said infestation is defined in the bylaw as an “overrunning of a property by vermin, rodents and/or insects.”
If a complaint was lodged by a neighbour of a suspected infestation, Brown said a bylaw officer would have to attend and use “good judgment” to determine if an infestation is occurring.
East Kent Steve Pinsonneault said the new standards will be tough to enforce.
“I think this bylaw is going to be a nightmare to police,” Pinnsoneault said, adding it will lead to an increase in costs to the municipality and pit neighbours against each other.
Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy expressed concern about untended vacant lots where no one cuts the grass.
Brown said the bylaw doesn’t mean people can let their property “run wild” under the guise of naturalization, as new projects must feature “deliberate” planting.
Ontario’s noxious weed bylaw supersedes the municipal bylaw, Brown explained, adding it’s a specific list of what can and cannot be allowed to grow.
Rule breakers will be required to maintain their properties, he said, and adhere to standards.
Brown said he didn’t think enforcement will be a problem but if it is, public works will report back to council.
The original amendment only allowed for back and side portions of yards to be naturalized, but following an added recommendation from Thompson, council approved naturalization for front yards as well.
Thompson said the new approach involves a “change of mindset” stressing the fact naturalization is an “active endeavour.
“If there is a resident out there who wants to try it out, I think we should support this.”
Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice