City of Austin Chops Down Shrubs, Sprays Herbicides...After Praising Resident's Garden

Photo Credit: Dan O'Connor, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.

The garden police idiocy doesn't end with front yard vegetable gardens. Picture this:

You live in hot, dry Austin, Texas. You spend thousands of dollars over many years to turn your front yard into an organic, water-saving, wildlife-friendly oasis. You have it certified as an official Wildlife Habitat. And the city of Austin writes you a letter, praising your work.

A neighbor complains. And the city comes and chops down shrubs. Then they spray a few herbicides onto your wildlife habitat, just for good measure. This is exactly what happened to Laura Croteau of Austin, Texas. On May 9th, Ms. Croteau received a letter from the City of Austin's "Wildlife Austin" program, complimenting her Earth-friendly wildlife garden, stating that it was "a beautiful yard [that] would be perfect to showcase."

On May 25th, she received a different letter, this time from the city of Austin's Forestry Department, stating that her garden violates city ordinances. In part, the complaint was that the sunflowers she planted were too tall, her wildflowers needed to be cut back, shrubs should be trimmed into shapes and placed in defined, maintained beds. Failure to comply could result in a $2000 fine and (this is getting old, now) being charged with a misdemeanor.

Croteau has plenty of examples of properties in her neighborhood that have the same issues hers does, yet they aren't being cited. The issue is that in Austin, as in many communities, code compliance citations are based on whether or not the city gets a complaint from someone in the neighborhood. One person calling to complain can trigger a citation from the city, which can lead to a ridiculous misdemeanor charge.

It gets worse.

In late June, the city informed Ms. Croteau that they were no longer interested in suing her, but that she would need to work with the city to be able to keep her wildlife garden. They told her they wanted to remove the shrubs to reduce the chance of obstructing the view (she lives on a corner lot). She trimmed the offending shrubs to eliminate any chance of obstruction.

With ZERO WARNING, she woke on the morning of June 30th to the sound of chainsaws. City workers cut down a large section of the hedge in her front yard. By the time she got outside, much of the hedge was gone. The city workers were spraying the area with herbicides (just for good measure, I guess) when she reached them.

A few weeks later, the city informed her that they wanted to remove MORE plants and put a "No Parking" sign on her lot, but has since decided against it. For now, Ms. Croteau is figuring out what to do to replace the shrubs chopped down by the city.

One positive coming out of this story is that it is making the city of Austin (and hopefully other communities) look at the current policy of complaint-based code citations. One busybody, complaining to the city, should not be able to cause this amount of havoc for their neighbors.

You can read more about the ongoing saga of this wildlife garden at The Austin Chronicle.
More About Criminal Gardening:
Michigan Woman Faces 93 Days in Jail for Planting a Vegetable Garden
B.C. Man Faces 6 Months in Jail for Growing Food

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