To: NPSOT-NPAT@yahoogroups.com
From: Jason Spangler <jasons@wumple.com>
Date: Sun, 29 Sep 2002 12:34:35 -0500
Subject: [NPSOT-NPAT] Update on our garden's "mowing needed" violation notice from Springwoods

Warning -- this is long!

The following is an update on our garden's "mowing needed" violation notice from Springwoods MUD just outside of Austin (and will be a part of Austin due to annexation after December 31st).

For background information up to this point, see our web page at http://jasons.wumple.com/Interests/Nature/WeedLaws/Welcome.html . In summary, Springwoods MUD cited our native plant garden for violating restrictive covenants on the property and said "Maintenance needed - Mowing".

It has been almost two months since the original violation notice but nothing has yet been resolved.

In the middle of August we sent a packet of information via certified mail to the MUD and their contractor, ECO Resources Inc.  The package included:
  1. A letter explaining our garden and why we were not in violation of the covenant, recent additions we made to the garden, and what we would like to see done (receive a letter saying we are not in violation)
  2. Copies of letters from organizations and individuals concerning this matter
  3. Benefits of natural landscaping, native plants, not having a lawn, etc.
  4. A detailed breakdown of the restrictive covenant part by part and why our garden did not violate each one.
  5. Example misuses of Weed Laws
  6. References cited and used when creating the garden, and additional information
  7. A list of organizations that support natural gardening, habitat gardening, and/or native plants
  8. Copies of Backyard Wildlife Habitat letters and certificates
  9. An extensive plant list, organized by family, genus, and species.
  10. Some Pictures from our garden
  11. A copy of the original violation notice
  12. A copy of a Weed Laws article from the John Marshall Law Review, Volume 26, Summer 1993, Number 4
  13. A copy of the U.S. EPA "A Sourcebook on Natural Landscaping for Public Officials"
Over the next few weeks several professionals (involved in landscaping, native plants, and wildlife) and a NPSOT official wrote letters to the MUD and ECO Resources.  In general, the letters said there were no weeds in the garden, that native plants are good, that the garden was attractive and beneficial, and that the garden was a good thing overall.

We contacted the MUD via ECO Resources (since they act as the MUD's agent in these matters) several times over the next few weeks.

On September 16th the inspector, Robin Sussman, said that we had passed her inspection, but the matter was now a "larger issue" due to the letters that the MUD and ECO Resources had received and that the matter was out of their hands.  ECO Resources believed they were waiting to hear back from the MUD board on their decision, but could not tell me for certain.

On September 23rd ECO Resources put me in touch with the MUD's attorney, Gregg Krumme of Ambrust and Brown LLP.  He said that the board had not decided yet, but they were going to have Richard Fadal of Texascapes visit the garden and give his opinion to the MUD.  He also asked me questions about why some native plant gardeners don't like bradford pears, crape myrtles, and nandina.  I don't know if it was a test of knowledge or curiosity on his part, but it made me nervous.

I asked if Richard would be evaluating the garden based on the restrictive covenant (cultivated, pruned, and free of trash and unsightly material). Greg said no, that Richard would be evaluating the garden from a landscaping perspective.  I also asked if Richard would be evaluating anyone else's property and mentioned uniform enforcement (meaning our garden should not have to meet special criteria compared to others), and Greg assured me that the district does everything possible to ensure uniform enforcement.

I also asked when the board would decide if our garden was in violation or not.  He said they might informally decide before the next board meeting, but that the formal decision would probably occur at the next board meeting.  I asked to speak to the board about the matter, and he said I could speak during the "Citizen Comments" part of the meeting.

I asked to be present at Richard's visit and Greg said it would be fine, so I contacted Richard Fadal at Texascapes to coordinate his visit.  We exchanged voice mail, and in his message Richard said he knew of the visit but not had received a directive from the board yet to do the visit and coordinate with me.  He said he expected to have no issues with our native plant garden, and that he would contact me to coordinate the visit as soon as the board gave him the directive.

So we're back to the stressful waiting game, not knowing what will happen next.  We hope the board will rule that the garden is not in violation at their next board meeting on October.  At least we can de-stress by enjoying the garden in bloom right now: black dalea, liatris, rock rose, pitcher sage, zexmenia, ruellia, gregg saliva, tropical sage, mejorana, lantana, turk's cap, mealy blue sage, velvet leaf mallow, frostweed, purple bindweed, fleabane, Lindheimer senna, two-leaved senna, hedgehog cactus, cenizo, agalinis, trumpet vine, cross vine, etc.

We've had several observations about this process so far:
Standard disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, etc.

Fox example: § 209.006 says that the violation notice must inform the property owner that they may request a hearing under Section 209.007 on or before the 30th day after the date the owner receives the notice.  § 209.007 says that if the owner is entitled to an opportunity to cure the violation, they can submit a written request for a hearing to discuss and verify facts and resolve the matter.  We repeatedly requested a face to face meeting to discuss the matter but were continually told that it was not part of the process and not how they did things.

We also highly recommend anyone living in an area with a property owner's association to know the rules applying to their property and take advantage of § 207.003.  It says that the association must provide a current copy of the restrictions applying to the subdivision for a reasonable cost within 10 days of receiving written notice.

We'll post another update when something significant occurs.  Thanks again everyone for your encouragement and words of advice regarding this matter.