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    Carefree lawn in trouble

    photo
    [Times photo: Scott Keeler]

    Artificial turf crosses the line with a Palm Harbor homeowners group, which says: Better dead than fake.

    By JULIE CHURCH
    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published November 28, 2001


    PALM HARBOR -- Joy Yauslin has one of the greenest front yards in her neighborhood. It is always perfectly groomed and has no weeds.

    What's more, it doesn't need water.

    That's one of the main reasons Mrs. Yauslin, 73, paid $5,000 for an artificial lawn. She's the kind of person who collects rainwater in buckets to water her plants.

    But the Wexford West Homeowners Association recently told her that her yard violates the community's deed restrictions. She has 30 days to rip it up or face legal action.

    "I'm scared to death of their lawyer," she said Tuesday.

    In July, Mrs. Yauslin had 1,200 square feet of FIELDturf brand synthetic grass installed in her front yard, using money she inherited when her mother died.

    The turf was publicized during last spring's drought as a way to have a natural-looking, evergreen yard without violating Pinellas County's watering restrictions. It is the same surface used at Tropicana Field.

    Mrs. Yauslin has been happy with the turf, which requires no care other than a weekly application of weed killer. Her neighbors have complimented her on how nice her yard looks.

    "I love it, and my neighbors do, too," she said. "One of my neighbors does lawns for a living and he said "go for it.' "

    In a Nov. 20 letter, however, the homeowners association told Mrs. Yauslin her yard is in violation of Article VI, Section 19 of the community's deed restrictions.

    "More specifically, you are failing to maintain a sodded yard," the letter states.

    The letter is copied to the association's attorney and gives Mrs. Yauslin 30 days to come into compliance with the deed restrictions or face further action.

    Mrs. Yauslin doesn't want trouble with her neighbors. She has lived in the Palm Harbor subdivision for 141/2 years. Her late husband served on the homeowners association's board of directors.

    She said she loves her yard and spends at least 10 hours a week caring for her plants.

    But, she also admits to being frugal. She doesn't pay for yard care or a pool service. She doesn't own a clothes dryer and won't permit showers lasting longer than five minutes in her home.

    So she is troubled by the thought of paying to install the turf, then ripping it out.

    "The thought of paying to hire a lawyer bothers her too, but she'll do that before she rips it up," said Joy Nessola, 47, Mrs. Yauslin's daughter.

    Homeowners association board members say they have tried to be flexible with neighbors who have taken less permanent steps to deal with drought, even those homeowners who have a brown yard full of dead grass.

    "We have shown quite a bit of leniency in enforcing the sod requirements in times of drought, but if you don't enforce a deed restriction it becomes null and void," said Jim Lenox, who is the board treasurer and has served on the board for more than 12 years.

    Lenox said if Mrs. Yauslin is allowed to keep the synthetic grass, it opens the door to people who want to use gravel in their yards instead of grass, or those who want to use other, less realistic forms of synthetic turf.

    photo
    [Times photo: Scott Keeler]
    Joy Yauslin's artificial lawn has the same surface as Tropicana Field, costs $5,000 and stays evergreen through drought. But it violates deed restrictions.

    "I like it and voted to let it stay," said board president Judy Thompson. "I personally don't find it offensive, but I am only one board member and must agree it is a violation."

    Between 40 and 50 homes in the Southeast have installed FIELDturf, said David Sheffer, president of Sarasota-based AlternaScapes, the distributor of FIELDturf for this part of the country.

    Sheffer said and he has not heard one other complaint from a homeowners association.

    "Most people don't even realize it's not real grass," he said. "I've had people tell me they've had people come up to them and give them lawn maintenance quotes."

    Tom and Conchita Root had FIELDturf installed in their Palma Ceia Park home in April.

    "I'm really pleased with it," Mrs. Root said. "I was in my yard the other day raking it and someone stopped to ask directions. They didn't even notice it wasn't real."

    Mrs. Root said no one has complained to her about the turf.

    Sheffer suggests Mrs. Yauslin fight the restriction.

    "FIELDturf is synthetic sod," he said. "It uses the same installation system as quality yard sod. This is not just a carpet rolled out over the yard."

    Mrs. Yauslin admits her mistake may have been in not checking with the homeowners association before installing the grass.

    "I understand they have rules," she said. "But rules can be broken."

    - Julie Church can be reached at (727) 445-4229 or church@sptimes.com.

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