Lawrence planning officials have a number of legitimate questions about the use of artificial turf as a landscaping material.
Not the least of those questions is why a developer would continue to install artificial turf around a new 96-unit apartment complex at 546 Frontier Drive after being specifically told by city inspectors that the material doesn’t comply with city standards.
The only answer that the developers of Tuckaway Apartments apparently had to offer was that they already had purchased the material and hoped that they could receive retroactive approval for its use.
It shouldn’t be news to a long-time local developer that that isn’t how the system works, and city officials shouldn’t hesitate to order the turf torn out if they determine it isn’t an appropriate landscaping material.
An architect for the apartment complex said the developers are “just absolutely sold on the product” because it requires no maintenance. He added he was confident that community residents would like the look of the product if they gave it a chance. Count planning officials among those who are unconvinced. They contend there are other more appropriate and attractive no- or low-maintenance landscaping methods that the apartment developers could use.
They also expressed concern over the long-term environmental impact of the material. Significant research, for instance, indicates that soil covered by artificial turf for long periods degrades and actually begins to die. Concerns over the environmental impact and appearance of the material warrant at least some serious study and discussion.
The other issue involves the precedent of allowing a developer to knowingly violate city regulations and then retroactively seek “forgiveness” for that action. There is no question that the developers knew the artificial turf didn’t meet city standards, but rather than tear it out or even stop installing it after being notified by city inspectors, they ignored the warning and kept installing.
The arrogance of that action shouldn’t go unnoticed by planners or Lawrence city commissioners who will have the final say on a rule change to allow the artificial turf. Developers likely will try to work out a compromise on the issue, but city officials should base their decisions on the use of artificial turf on what is best for the city and the environment and not the developer’s pocketbook.