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Commissioners consider banning any grass that uses a lot of water in new developments, but instead they cut back how much can be used.
By DAN DEWITT, Times Staff Writer
Published January 16, 2008
BROOKSVILLE - A discussion Tuesday about whether to change the county landscape ordinance led the County Commission to a much larger question: evolution or revolution?
On the side of revolution stood Commissioner Diane Rowden, who said the new law should ban the notoriously thirsty St. Augustine grass.
Considering the ongoing drought and the prospect of long-term water shortages, Rowden and several residents said it's time to replace St. Augustine with bahia grass and other drought-tolerant - or Florida friendly - landscaping.
"What are we waiting for? When we turn on the faucet and nothing comes out?" said Janey Baldwin, a member of the Southwest Water Management District's Withlacoochee River Basin Board.
Ultimately, evolution won, with Commissioner Jeff Stabins pushing a motion backing a more modest change that county staffers recommended: reducing from 75 to 50 percent the area of any new yard that may be planted in grass that uses a lot of water.
"You don't want to get too Florida friendly too fast," Stabins said.
The changes to the ordinance will take effect after a state review, which is expected to take about two weeks.
The ordinance, largely aimed at new construction, is not retroactive, meaning that homeowners with St. Augustine grass are not affected. It also does not include resodding for existing homes or nurseries.
Stabins' motion passed unanimously, with Rowden saying she voted for it because it was an improvement over the current ordinance.
Besides limiting the use of thirsty grasses, the ordinance closes loopholes allowing residents and builders to remove what the ordinance calls "specimen trees," those with trunks larger than 18 inches in diameter. Property owners would need county permission to remove such trees.
If trees and brush are cleared from farmland, the property cannot be developed for at least five years; this rule is intended to prevent clearing to make way for immediate development.
Another change to the ordinance more than doubles, to 7 percent, the amount of land in large subdivisions and commercial projects that must be left in natural vegetation.
Gary Schraut, a Brooksville real estate broker, said this provision would obstruct new development at a time when the county should be working to encourage it.
"If you haven't noticed, we're in an economic crisis with regards to real estate," Schraut said.
Bob Eaton, the owner of Artistic Homes in Spring Hill, said the talk of banning St. Augustine overlooked the fact that residents of subdivisions like the way it looks.
"Please do not ignore that lifestyle," he said. "If you get too overzealous, you're going to have nothing but dead grass and weeds, and I don't think that's attractive."
Judging from the comments from commissioners, though, St. Augustine grass may not be around much longer.
Bahia grass can survive long periods without watering, while prolonged drought can kill St. Augustine. About half of the public water supply in the state is used to irrigate landscaping.
Commission Chairman Chris Kingsley said he agreed with Rowden in principle, though he didn't think the time had come to ban that grass. Commissioner David Russell took the same position, favoring the modest changes to the ordinance, although he said a ban on St. Augustine is probably coming.
"I believe we'll get there eventually," he said.
Dan DeWitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6116.
[Last modified January 15, 2008, 23:29:07]