From: Jason Spangler <email@example.com>
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2002 17:56:18 -0600
Subject: [NPSOT-NPAT] Final Update on our garden's "mowing needed" violation
notice from Springwoods
There is good news, bad news, then finally good news. :-)
In summary, Springwoods MUD cited our native plant garden for violating
restrictive covenants on the property and said "Maintenance needed - Mowing".
We've been fighting it since the beginning of August. For background
information up to this point, see our web page at
The board's landscape consultant, Richard Fadal of Texascapes, liked the
garden and told them it was a valid Xeriscape and native plant garden. We
presented the garden information and pictures to the board. They complained
about and criticized our garden for a while, and we reminded them repeatedly
that the restrictive covenants only require that vegetation on the property be
cultivated, pruned, and free of trash and unsightly material and that our
property met those requirements. At the end the board ruled that the property
was not in violation of the restrictive covenants.
The Good News:
Richard Fadal of Texascapes visited our garden before the board meeting at
Greg Krumme's (the board's attorney) request. We walked through the garden.
He said it was definately a valid Xeriscape, water-converving, native plant
garden. He was actually quite complimentary and said that the garden was very
nice, he really liked it, and he couldn't have done better himself. He said
it looked like the Wildflower Center and had good flow. He said he would tell
the board it was a well-maintained garden, a valid landscape, and a water-wise
The Bad News:
We then waiting while they had a public hearing where they talked about the
deal they are making with the City of Austin to delay annexation for 5 years.
When our turn came to speak at the board meeting, Lisa passed out copies of
the information we send the MUD and some pictures of the garden as I spoke. I
summarized the letter we sent to the board (not in violation of the covenant,
it is a Xeriscape, water-conserving, habitat, native plant garden, beneficial,
no weeds, evaluated by professionals and botanists who sent letters, no
complaints, compliments from neighbors, want to know if they think we are in
violation (and why) or not).
Then it got really nasty (from Lisa's and my point of view at least).
To Lisa and I, most of the board's tone toward our garden felt hostile during the below exchange. The text
below does not convey very well the extremely negative tone I felt the board's
The board was fairly lax on procedure and did not have any name placards or
introductions, so we are not sure who is who. I am unsure that I have the
following name associations correct, but I will verify and correct when I
receive a copy of the board meeting minutes.
The Springwoods MUD Board:
- B1 Jim Buchanan, president
- B2 Jim Sagnes, vice president
- B3 Kelly Campbell, secretary
- B4 Trey Caldwell, treasurer
- B5 Mike Weems, asst. secretary-treasurer
B3 said that the garden was not attractive because it did not have different
textures and that the height was too uniform. She said she had an art degree
and that the garden was 'not aesthetically pleasing'. She said we should go
on the Xeriscape garden tour for ideas on how to make it look better. She
also complained that our tall sage was too tall. We did not respond, but
wondered what she was talking about (she might have been referring to the
liatris or black dalea).
- Greg Krumme, attorney
- Margaret Wingrove, Contract Manager for ECO Resources, Inc.
Many board members kept referring to every plant as a "weed". I corrected
them as much as possible: "that is zexmenia, not a weed," "that is liatris,
not a weed," "that is black dalea, not a weed". A board member said that
(paraphrasing) 'Johnson Grass occurs everywhere in Texas, it is as native as
anything else'. I responsed that Johnson Grass is a legally defined noxious
weed, is not a native plant, and is invasive. Eventually B1 told them to
refer to the plants in the garden as 'native plants' and not 'weeds'.
Throughout the discussion, I repeated that the restrictive covenant requires
that vegetation on the property be cultivated, pruned, and free of trash and
unsightly material and that our property met those requirements. We kept
trying to steer the discussion away from personal opinions and towards the
B1 said he had heard complaints from people in the MUD. I responded that
Robin Sussman, the Restrictive Covenants Assistant for the MUD at ECO
Resources, said there were no complaints on file for our property and that
the MUD had received no complains. I also told the board that we've only
received compliments from our neighbors and no complaints.
B4 said he was a professional landscaper in the past and that we had lots of
Dallasgrass growing in the garden. I told him we knew what Dallasgrass was
and that we had none (we always weeded it). I also said that a botanist had
inspected the property and found no noxious weeds, and that Dallasgrass did
not appear on the plant list for the property. He said it was there
and that he was not going to argue with us. Later I thought that perhaps he
believed the blue grama, little bluestem, or liatris seedlings were Dallasgrass.
B5 said that the garden did not conform or fit in with the neighborhood. He
asked if any of our neighbors had significant gardens. I said yes, several
properties in the neighorhood had significant amounts of non-lawn landscaping
in the front half of their property.
B5 said that our garden was not appropriate for the front of the property, and
that didn't we think it looked different from everyone else's property and
didn't conform. Lisa responded that we thought everyone should have a garden
instead of a lawn.
B5 also said the NWF Habitat and TP&W Habitat signs said "backyard", and
(paraphrasing) `didn't that give you a clue it shouldn't be in the front yard?'
I responded that the convenant does not have a height restriction or a
requirement for a lawn in the front of the property. I also said a front lawn
would require much more water, fertilizer, and pesticide than our garden. I
also reminded them several times that the only requirements of the restrictive
covenant were that plants on the property must be cultivated, pruned, and free
of trash and unsightly material and that our garden met all of these criterea.
B5 said it wasn't any of their business but asked what the backyard looked
like. It told him it had more grasses in it. However, I didn't mention that
it was little bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass, big bluestem, silver
bluestem, plains lovegrass, sideoats grama, buffalograss, big muhly, bushy
bluestem, and eastern gamagrass.
B5 also said that our signs were not allowed and asked B1 if the matter should
be referred to the architectural committee instead. B1 said no, it was a full
board matter. We were asked how long this situation had taken, and we
responded over two months (since the beginning of August). Several board
members commented that we've been waiting too long for a decision and that
they should decide now.
One of the board members asked how much we paid the people to send the letters
for us. We were surprised by this and told them we paid nothing. Several
board members seemed doubtful and asked why someone would inspect the garden
or write letters for us without being paid. We said they believed it was an
important issue and wanted to help.
A board member asked the board would they tell who had a patch of "weeds" from
a person with a garden of native plants. The board member said asked who
would pay or be responsible for telling a weed patch from native plants. We
did not get a chance to respond because the discussion moved on quickly.
B4 said it looked like a few plants were growing over the sidewalk, and that
he was worried about people running into them. B2 said that loosing a few
inches of sidewalk can make it so that a person walking and another person
riding their bike or walking their dog can't pass each other, and they worried
about safety when people walked in the street instead. We said we would make
sure plants did not grow over onto the sidewalk and would prune any plants
that tried to grow onto the sidewalk.
We thought to ourselves that they should do something about the vehicles that
blocked the sidewalks throughout the neighborhood or the sidewalks blocked
almost completely by non-native plants, rather than complain about our 1 inch
of black dalea on the sidewalk.
B4 said we should keep the dead plant grow pruned in winter, and that it would
encourage growth and keep the plants healthy. I said I believed we always
kept the plants pruned in winter in the past, and that would we continue doing
so. He admitted he had not seen our garden in winter so he didn't know if we
did or not.
I also brought up that no one at the MUD seemed to know the procedure for
restrictive covenant enforcement, and that communication with the property
owner was poor. Greg Krumme outlined what he believed the procedure was, and
it was different from the procedure Robin had told us. Several board members
agreed and they talked about improving the procedure.
The Other Good News:
Towards the end, I said we wanted to know if we were either not in violation,
or if we were in violation and specifically why so we could proceed to the
next step. I sat down, and I heard B1 say he thought we were not in violation.
The board meeting seems pretty lax on procedure, so Lisa and I could not tell
that they actually decided anything. Due to the board's reaction, we thought
we would be calling a lawyer the next day to oppose the violation notice.
During the meeting break, Richard came over to our seats and said
congratulations. We were confused and told him we could not tell if they
decided anything or not. He said they said we were not in violation. He also
said that when something is controversial or leading-edge that there would be
a group of people who do not like it.
Greg Krumme also walked over and told us we were not in violation, that the
meeting minutes would reflect it, and that he would send us a copy of the
meeting minutes as a record of the decision.
B2 also came over to us and said that it was okay and they said we were not in
violation. He asked us to keep the habitat signs up so they could use them to
explain the garden to anyone who complained about it.
So the situation appears to be over, at least for now. The board meeting did
not feel like a victory at the time, but we were told that we are not in
violation of the restrictive covenant and that is the most important thing.
We are still worried that something similar will happen in the future, but
there doesn't seem to be anything we can do to avoid it or prepare for it.
The board's comments reminded us how much personal taste and the desire for
conformity are involved in communities. We've received feedback about the
garden ranging from "the garden is beautiful" and 'we visit every morning' to
'it looks like a weed patch' and 'is not appropriate and does not fit in'. In
our opinion, such a wide range in taste and opinion is a good reason not to
dictate taste or aesthetics in residential landscaping laws and rules.