August 25, 2008

Grass is Greener: Woman Concedes in Fight Over Lawn


HIGH POINT -- The grass is green in the front yard of Mary Fontaine's suburban home.

And she couldn't be much less happy about it.

The peach-fuzz-like shoots poking through the straw mark the end of a summer-long battle between Fontaine and the William's Grove homeowners association.

The fight touched on everything from water conservation to what makes an attractive yard. Ultimately it was resolved the old- fashioned way: with a hearing in front of the homeowners association board.

In short, Fontaine, saying she wanted to avoid the trouble of a lawn and wasting water on a lawn she didn't want, had put down mulch instead of grass.

The association, after hearing complaints from neighbors who recoiled at the mulched yard, wanted grass. After receiving notice of a formal hearing and the threat of $100-a-day fines, the retiree saw things their way.

"I don't want it," Fontaine said. "But it's the only way I can keep these people happy."

The saga came as some horticulture experts are encouraging residents to rethink the traditional suburban yard, with its expanse of lush turf often fueled by large amounts of water, fertilizer and pesticides.

With drought and environmental considerations in mind, they say, it makes sense to cut back on grass and replace it with mulch or drought-tolerant plants.

But that trend can run headlong into traditional notions of suburban yards.

That's what happened in Fontaine's neighborhood, a relatively new development of modest homes close to Oak Hollow Lake. One neighbor called the mulched yard "dreadful."

Betty Sluder, who works for a management company that handles issues for the association, said before the hearing that the issue is one of maintaining standards in the neighborhood.

Grass is standard in the community, she said, and the subdivision's covenants require that properties be maintained in a manner consistent with other homes in the neighborhood.

The board sent Fontaine a letter warning that she could face fines if she didn't put in grass. Although she argued that the association's covenants didn't specifically say grass is required, the threat of fines prompted her to break out the grass seed a few weeks ago.

Judy Mancuso, a member of the association's board, said this week that Fontaine has received notice that her current lawn is acceptable and that she won't have to pay any fines.

But Fontaine isn't feeling too happy. She said she paid several hundred dollars to have the mulch removed and grass seed planted.

She's also not thrilled about having to water the grass in the summer heat.

"I'm going through a bunch of water," she said. "If I had known then what I know now, I never would have bought into this development."

Still, she manages to look on the bright side -- if a little sarcastically.

"Right now, I'm a member of the homeowners association in good standing," she said.

Contact Jason Hardin at 373-7021 or at [email protected]

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