Plant-based blight?

Towns in southeastern Connecticut have had to come to terms, often reluctantly, with what to do about blighted properties. Many a town official has wished for the wisdom of Solomon in drafting an anti-blight ordinance that corrects true, eyesore blight without tromping on residents' personal tastes.

Rusting washing machines and dead cars are obviously a blight on the streetscape and peeling paint and tipsy shutters are offensive, especially to nearby owners of tidy yards who want to see the same across the street. But plant-based blight is not so simple.

That issue will come before a New London hearing Tuesday when Montauk Avenue resident and Connecticut Arboretum Assistant Director Maggie Redfern plans to appeal a notice of violation she received last month.

Redfern is one of a small but growing number of property owners who reject the idea of a mowed lawn on ecological grounds. Some are urban farmers who plant vegetable gardens in their front yards; others have gone in for xeriscaping — landscaping that uses rocks, gravel and plants that require little or no watering.

Unlike those, Redfern's yard of choice appears to be at odds with the 2015 ordinance adopted by the city that says premises must be free of weeds or plant growth in excess of 10 inches. The code exempts "cultivated flowers or gardens."

She told The Day last week that what grows in her yard is specifically cultivated to encourage naturalized plants and root out invasives while attracting pollinating insects, using minimal water and no chemicals. She said she objects to "unclear blanket classification of weeds and plant overgrowth." Her anti-lawn stance is one that has been championed nationally for decades by the Arboretum, located at Connecticut College. It has not caught on with fans of traditional lawns and tidy neighborhoods.

Blight, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder; Redfern may be able to demonstrate a cultivated yard to the satisfaction of the hearing officer. The height of the plants, however, got her the citation after a neighbor complained.

Perhaps the hearing will result in a compromise that works for all in the neighborhood. But the city needs to take note that in light of changing environmental attitudes it may also need to revisit its code.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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