NORTH MANKATO — After a year of discussion, criticism, debate and changes, a proposed “natural managed lawn area” ordinance still failed to get a vote in North Mankato Tuesday night as council members and some residents said there were still too many unanswered questions.
The council held a public hearing and was expected to vote on an ordinance setting down rules for property owners who want to put in native plantings or pollinator gardens. But more than a dozen residents, mostly opposed to the ordinance, raised a variety of questions and the council voted to table the issue until the next meeting.
Critics said they felt the ordinance was not well written, too restrictive on those who want to have natural native plantings and was being pushed through too quickly.
After hearing from several residents who raised a variety of issues, including wording in the ordinance, the council voted unanimously to let staff refine it and bring it back. No council member voiced opposition to approving an ordinance but some said they felt there were questions that needed to be addressed and more specific language that needed to be added to the ordinance before it was approved.
After it was tabled, Mayor Mark Dehen said the proposed ordinance is aimed at promoting native plantings while also protecting residents from neighbors who let their yards become run-down.
“The bottom line is this ordinance is about respecting everyone’s property rights,” he said.
Dehen said he applauds all those dedicated to pollinator gardens but said an ordinance is needed to protect property owners who see neighbors who simply don’t maintain their yards at all and claim they have a “natural yard.”
During the public hearing, resident Kathleen Felt said she was more comfortable with the latest proposed ordinance, which has been changed considerably from its original form early last year. “I appreciate this ordinance has less restrictions than the earlier draft we saw.” But she said the proposed setbacks would make it impossible for owners of some smaller lots and corner lots in lower North Mankato to plant a native plant area.
Barb Church was among several speakers who said they believed the ordinance was being pushed through too fast and wondered who the city was trying to protect by enacting an ordinance.
“So many times I’ve heard ‘the city needs to keep control’... I wonder what the council is afraid of... what are you trying to protect us from?”
Bess Tsaouse said the ordinance was “not very well written,” and said the city did not understand the nuances of native plantings.
Lucy Lowry and Tom Hagen 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.
The proposed ordnance in its current form would allow residents to have up to 500 square feet, or 30%, whichever is less, of the non-pervious portion of their yard converted to a managed native planting area.
The proposed ordinance says natural areas need to be maintained and contain no noxious weeds that go to seed. People have plenty of choices of native plants to choose from as the Department of Natural Resources has a list of more than 230 species of native plants that property owners can select.
The natural native plantings must be cut to no higher than 12 inches at least once annually.
Natural lawn areas must meet property line setbacks of: 10 feet in front of the property, 5 feet on from side property lines and 10 feet from rear property lines. Plantings can’t interfere with the vision line of motorists and can’t be planted within 20 feet of a road intersection unless the height is kept to no more than 12 inches.