New London blight hearing officer drops citation against environmentalist

The yard at 286 Montauk Ave. in New London is seen this past week. Resident Maggie Redfern is appealing a citation by the city's blight ordinance officer, who ordered her to trim the overgrowth in the yard. Redfern argues that the yard is a carefully maintained ecological landscape.  (Greg Smith/The Day)
The yard at 286 Montauk Ave. in New London is seen this past week. Resident Maggie Redfern is appealing a citation by the city's blight ordinance officer, who ordered her to trim the overgrowth in the yard. Redfern argues that the yard is a carefully maintained ecological landscape. (Greg Smith/The Day)

New London — In a neighborhood of grass lawns and manicured landscapes, Maggie Redfern’s unconventional front yard is something of an oddity.

But it is not in violation of the city’s blight ordinance.

The city’s blight hearing officer on Wednesday issued a decision that sides with Redfern and dismisses an order citing her for a violation of the city’s property maintenance code.

Redfern maintains a naturalistic yard at her 286 Montauk Ave. home — a long-term project to create an ecological landscape that contains a mix of drought-resistant grasses and native plants that is free from pest weeds and does not require chemical pesticides or fertilizer. It also reduces fossil fuels, promotes pollinator health, minimizes water consumption and storm water runoff, she said.

At least one neighbor thinks it is an eyesore. A complaint about Redfern's yard brought Blight Officer Kenyon Haye to the scene. He issued a violation notice and ordered her to cut the vegetation to 10 inches or less, as called for in the property maintenance code. The code makes an exception for “cultivated flowers and gardens.”

Redfern has maintained that the ordinance has an overly broad classification of overgrowth and that her yard meets the definition of a cultivated garden. She appealed the decision.

In his written decision, Blight Hearing Officer Gregg Wagman said Redfern's yard is “cultivated in the broader definition of landscaping. Indeed it is only with a depth of knowledge and attentiveness to invasive/native species that Ms. Redfern has been able to develop her project.”

Redfern is the assistant director of the arboretum at Connecticut College and has led tree walks in the city.

“This is a project with a specific goal in mind and an ability to achieve that goal, exactly the opposite of a ‘neglected or abandoned property,’” Wagman wrote.

Wagman said that the commentary to the property maintenance code described the need for weed control as a “mechanism for removal of weeds on neglected or abandoned Properties.”

Redfern said she felt vindicated.

“The good news is I can continue gardening as I have been,” Redfern said. “I’m glad this can be put behind me.”

One of the most surprising outcomes of her appeal of the violation notice and the ensuing publicity, Redfern said, is the support she has received.

A group of passionate environmentalists, some with signs reading, “hell no, we won’t mow,” attended her appeal hearing last week.

On a regular basis Redfern has strangers stopping at her house while she is outside working in her garden. They ask for advice, talk to her about their own landscape ideas and in one case asked what should be done about a painted turtle a woman found in her garden. The woman brought the turtle with her.

“The feedback in person has been 100 percent supportive,” Redfern said. “Everyone who has stopped by is just curious.”

She said she hoped people were rethinking the traditional lawns and becoming more aware of how planting native plants is helping the environment.

“I think that’s something coming more and more to people’s attention,” Redfern said.

Conservation Commission Chairman Bob Stuller also has taken notice and said the commission plans a discussion on a replacement ordinance that better defines a cultivated garden and does not penalize people for maintaining something other than a grass lawn.

g.smith@theday.com


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