The Port Aransas Planning and Zoning Commission has asked city staff to draw up some city ordinance changes that would expand the areas of town where property owners may allow native vegetation to grow, uncut.
Currently, city ordinances prevent people from cutting the natural vegetation on land within 1,000 feet of the high-tide line at the beach. The purpose is to preserve sand dunes in their natural states.
Dunes that lie beyond the 1,000-foot mark don’t have the same protection, but some property owners in those areas allow natural grasses to grow, unfettered. Anyone who might care to complain to city hall about those properties would find the law to be on their side. They could cite the city’s weedy lot ordinance, which is designed to prevent yards and lots in town from becoming so overgrown that they become bushy messes that attract varmints and present fire hazards.
In action on Monday, April 26, the Planning and Zoning Commission directed staff to change ordinances so people with dunes on their land won’t have to cut the natural vegetation that grows there, even if the dunes lie outside the 1,000-foot range.
Some property along 12th Street and Avenue B are examples of where the rule would apply, said Becky Corder, chairman of the commission. Lynn Ulch lives in a house on a lot filled with natural grasses on 12th Street, and she said it’s good that the city is taking steps to allow natural grasses to remain uncut in her neighborhood. “I was just outside the other day, watching a covey of quail walking through,” Ulch said. “I enjoy that.”
City staff will create a proposed change to ordinances and present it to the commission when it meets May 31, said Interim City Manager Dave Parsons. If it passes a commission vote that day, it could go before the city council June 17. It would require readings at three council meetings to become law.
City staff would be the ones who would make the determination of whether a hill on a given piece of property qualifies as a dune, Parsons said.
The commission took the action after hearing a presentation from Dr. John Fucik, a retired Texas A&M Extension Service horticulturalist who advocated allowing owners of property even outside dune areas to grow natural vegetation without having to cut it.
The commission stopped short of supporting expansion of that kind of freedom to the entire town. But Corder said that could happen later, if there is enough demand for it.
If a strong desire for it emerges, Corder said, the city would have to develop criteria to distinguish between an environmentally friendly lot with natural grasses and a yard where someone simply isn’t mowing their lawn.
Fucik, who helped the city of Weslaco write an ordinance allowing for more native grasses, said there is a growing movement across the United States to rescind weedy lot ordinances. Many such ordinances are “not legally supportable,” Fucik said, because they tend to be based on aesthetic preferences, which are subjective.
Allowing natural grasses to grow offers several advantages, Fucik said:
• A large reduction in maintenance needs, which would mean less water usage and fewer emissions from lawn mowers;
• Preservation of a natural beauty that is unique to the area;
• Keeping vegetation in place that supports local wildlife;
• Reduction of city administrative time in inspect- ing certain lots for high weeds.
Fucik suggested that an expert panel not composed of city employees would be best for making determinations of whether a given lot is mostly composed of native vegetation.
Rules handed down by homeowners associations, however, would trump city rules on a native vegetation ordinance, Fucik said.