NORTH MANKATO — After discussions, debates and rewrites over the past year, the North Mankato City Council unanimously passed a “natural yards ordinance” on Monday night.
The ordinance allows residents to have up to 30% of the non-pervious portion of their yard converted to a managed native planting area, or pollinator garden. The natural areas need to be maintained and contain no noxious weeds that go to seed, among other requirements. No permit is needed and city staff have said they don’t actively look for issues but respond if complaints are made.
The version that passed also gives people who are out of compliance 14 days, rather than five days, to come into compliance.
After a public hearing on Jan. 18 where more than a dozen people spoke, most critical of the ordinance, the council tabled a vote on the ordinance so some language could be changed and other revisions made.
After the ordinance was approved, Councilwoman Diane Norland and Councilman Billy Steiner said they want the city to also look at ways to reduce the use of fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals on lawns.
Steiner encouraged city staff not to vigorously enforce the new natural yards ordinance. “We don’t want to become the lawn cops.”
Lower North Mankato resident Brian McLaughlin said the new ordinance will force him to eliminate a large portion of the pollinator garden he has spent recent years growing and managing.
That’s because his pollinator garden is planted up to the alley and the ordinance requires a 10-foot setback in the front and back yards.
“That would eradicate most of my garden,” McLaughlin told The Free Press on Monday, prior to the council vote.
A few years ago, McLaughlin hired a business that installs prairie gardens to put in his garden. “They laid it out with appropriate plants for pollinators. Every year they come and do maintenance on it in the spring and fall,” McLaughlin said.
“You can’t have native plants up to the boundary, but what’s different from having native plants than any other plants?”
He said he also has a problem with language that says native plantings have to be cut back to 12 inches each fall, unless a property owner gets an exemption.
“I leave plants up over winter because some caterpillars and things lay eggs on them and they provide cover for birds in the winter. I wait until spring to cut plants back. I think I’m doing it right and I’ve done a lot of research on it,” he said. “There’s a nationwide trend toward pollinators. Butterflies and other pollinators are going extinct, and the state of Minnesota and others are encouraging more pollinator gardens.”
During the earlier public hearing several residents said they they believed the ordinance was being pushed through too fast, was sloppily written and was pushing the narrative that the default for yards should be mowed, fertilized, weed-free turf grass.
Two residents said they believed the city was passing the ordinance only to target Edward Borchardt, who the city has tussled with for years over the look of his yard on Allan Avenue.
Some neighbors filed complaints about Borchardt’s yard, and the city had on several occasions told him it was too overgrown with vegetation and shrubs as well as plantings too close to the street.
At a meeting in early December, the City Council voted unanimously to cite Borchardt’s property as a “nuisance property.”
They gave him until June 1 of this year to come into compliance. Borchardt recently filed a lawsuit appealing the decision.