City to decide whether to allow use of artificial grass in commercial projects

February 5, 2012


On the lawn of the Tuckaway Apartments at Frontier, it looks like Tiger Woods could play through at any moment.

Even in early February, the lawn at the West Lawrence apartment complex is golf-course green. Every blade of grass, every straight edge along a sidewalk appears to be precisely cut like a course only the pros play.

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that is true at Lawrence City Hall. Despite its fairway-like appearance, the landscaping job at this apartment complex near Sixth and Frontier is being labeled by City Hall planners as an errant shot.

The grass, of course, isn’t grass. It is synthetic turf, and other than for use on sports fields, the city’s commercial landscape code says it is prohibited. The city’s planning department is recommending the apartment complex, which was developed by a group led by longtime Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, tear up thousands of square feet of the artificial turf.

“We do have concerns with the maintenance and the appearance of it over time,” said Scott McCullough, the city’s director of planning and development services. “We think there are some practical concerns.”

At their Tuesday evening meeting, city commissioners will be asked to decide whether the fake grass can stay or go. At stake will be whether several thousand dollars of the material — the developers haven’t provided an actual cost estimate — of the synthetic turf must be removed.

But an attorney for Fritzel said the commission really is being asked to figure out how comfortable it is with change.

“Anything new is hard to get used to, but it is successfully used in other communities that have more severe water problems than we do,” said Jane Eldredge, an attorney for the apartment complex. “It is a product the community really needs to consider because as we become a drier and drier climate, I think more people are going to be interested in it.”

Limited use

Planning staff members are proposing a change that would allow synthetic turf to be used in bits and pieces as part of a landscaping plan, if it can be shown that natural vegetation can’t be feasibly grown in the area.

But the proposal would limit the use of the synthetic turf to no more than 10 percent of a site’s total. That is far different than how it has been used at the new West Lawrence apartment complex, which has used the material in place of natural sod around each of the complex’s apartment buildings.

McCullough said he understands the argument that the synthetic turf, most of which is made out of recycled materials, is environmentally friendly because it uses less water and chemicals than a traditional lawn. But he said for people who want to use less water and pesticides in their landscaping, there are more natural ways to do so.

“There are a lot of xeriscaping and natural plant options that can accomplish that goal,” McCullough said.

McCullough said he’s also concerned there is research suggesting the use of synthetic turf causes the soil covered by the turf to significantly degrade. McCullough said if an area covered by artificial turf were to be planted back to grass, the soil likely would need significant rehabilitation.

McCullough envisions future use of the product in Lawrence to be in places like shady spots next to a commercial building or in locations where natural vegetation is likely to get trampled.

But even then, the proposed regulations would require the turf to meet certain standards. They include:

  • Installation by a licensed professional with special training in synthetic turf.
  • A base that allows at least 14 inches of water to drain per square yard, per hour.
  • A product that comes with at least an eight-year “no-fade” warranty.
  • McCullough said the proposed code does give the city the ability to order a property owner to remove the turf and replace it if the color begins to fade or other appearance problems arise. But McCullough said he does have concerns about how easy it would be to enforce the provision, especially if the product wears out faster than what owners envision.
  • “That has been one of the chief concerns. How often will it really have to be replaced?” McCullough said.

A test case

Eldredge is urging the city to allow the synthetic turf to remain in place at the apartment complex as a test case.

“I think newness is a big part of what is going on here,” Eldredge said. “I think once people see how it performs, they’ll be more comfortable with it. I think it would be a wonderful trial for the community, if we’re allowed the chance.”

Eldredge said the developers of the apartment complex mistakenly thought the code allowed the use of artificial turf at the apartment complex. The Oread hotel, which also was developed by Fritzel, was given a special exemption to use artificial turf in some limited areas.

But McCullough said the Oread’s use of the material didn’t clear the way for it to be used at the apartment complex. City inspectors notified the developers that the turf was not an allowed use once an inspection discovered it was being installed. The developers were allowed to continue installing the turf, with the understanding they could lobby for a code change that would make it legal. The city, though, issued only a temporary occupancy permit for the apartments based on the unresolved issue, McCullough said. Technically, the city could revoke the occupancy permit for the apartments if the synthetic turf isn’t removed.

Eldredge said the developers have lobbied for the artificial turf to remain because they are convinced it is more beneficial to the environment because it uses far less water than a traditional lawn.

“We think it is a good idea to conserve water, and we also want to remind people that what we think of as a natural lawn isn’t natural at all,” Eldredge said. “A lot of irrigation and chemicals goes into that type of lawn.”

Home use

The controversy at Tuckaway at Frontier has brought to light there is nothing in the city code that stops homeowners from installing the artificial turf on their property. The portion of city code that prohibits the material applies only to commercial projects and other large developments that require a site plan.

McCullough said the city isn’t proposing regulations to prohibit the use of artificial turf at private residences.

“I think time will tell whether we need to address it,” McCullough said. “If it did really catch on and start impacting issues like stormwater management, we would have to look at it.”

Ryan Domnick with Lawrence-based Low Maintenance Landscape said he thinks some homeowners will be intrigued by the idea.

“There are definitely quite a few properties in Lawrence where it is difficult to grow grass,” Domnick said.

At least one residential property in Lawrence has installed the artificial turf. The home at 641 La. has synthetic turf. The house is owned by Fritzel.

Domnick said he hasn’t seen the product enough to know whether it would be a good fit for Lawrence. But he says he’s interested in finding out.

“I hope the city allows for some properties to experiment with it,” Domnick said.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.


Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 4 months ago

I thought that the legality of "whether to allow use of artificial grass" had already been settled by the precedent of the K-2 issue.

Keith 6 years, 4 months ago

"But an attorney for Fritzel said the commission really is being asked to figure out how comfortable it is with change."

Yes, but the change they have in mind is changing the rules after they ignore them.

coderob 6 years, 4 months ago

You're right about how bad lawn mower emissions are. Mowing most lawns is about the same emissions wise as a trip to St. Louis, mainly because lawn mowers are powered off less efficient engines, and they haven't had the same level of regulation as cars.

But fake grass isn't entirely environmentally friendly since it doesn't absorb water the same way as native vegetation would. Run of the mill grass isn't much better since the roots don't run deep, but that's still better than having no roots at all.

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

What proof does Miss Eldredge have that our climate is becoming drier? None . That assertion is not supported by any evidence. Pull up the tacky fake grass and live by the rules Fritzel.

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

The aquifer is not a source of water for anyone but Western Kansas. It's disappearing due to use by farmers for irrigation. That has absolutely no bearing on this matter.

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

There are alternatives to fake grass that both comply with city code and save water. That discussion is not germane to either Miss Eldredge's assertion or your comment on an aquifer that supplies water to farmers living 500 miles to our west.

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

which still has nothing to do with a "drier climate"

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

And as I said, there are water conscious landscaping alternatives that comply with code and won't make the town look like an indoor football field.

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

In fact, every word that came out of Miss Eldrege 's mouth was a lie. I hate liars. Fritzel is trying to pull a fast one after making a dumb mistake. Fix it to code.

Hooligan_016 6 years, 4 months ago

The biggest issue with artificial turf is stormwater runoff. If the developers can show that turf can be used and still allow water infiltration and percolation to groundwater, then it would be more readily accepted.

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

For a town that tries so hard to look good, it's about the tackiest thing imaginable .

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

no, fake grass is Cousin Eddy worthy. It doesn't get much worse unless there is a rusting car on blocks and garbage littering the lawn. Both of which are still possible with fake grass.

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

plastic grass wouldn't make that shack look any better.

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

plastic grass with tears, dog poop and cig burns would look far far worse than that. use your imagination a little.

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

that turf is also professionally maintained and replaced about every 5/6 years. That's not going to happen with the house you linked. The weeds will look far better in the long run.

Hooligan_016 6 years, 4 months ago

Don't get me wrong, I think the turf outside the Oread looks absolutely dreadful.

Hooligan_016 6 years, 4 months ago

Don't get me wrong, I think the turf outside the Oread looks absolutely dreadful.

Nevertheless 6 years, 4 months ago

Are you kidding me?!? Where, specifically, is your evidence that this town "tries so hard to look good"?

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

You really need to experience the tackiness of plastic grass in person. A few fake trees and bushes, maybe some fake pink flamingos would really round that photo out.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 4 months ago

JackMcKee, I love the movie 'Pink Flamingos'. I was thinking about posting a link to a youtube clip of it, but there's that pesky TOS, ya know.

WilburM 6 years, 4 months ago

Fritzel has also put in artificial turf at the house he apparently bought for his kids on the NW corner of 7th and Louisiana. Right in the middle of a historic neighborhood. Kind of a combo of contempt, bad taste and laziness.
With Tom Fritzel at least (Oread Hotel...) the hits just keep on coming.

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

or The Tower of Terror as the Oread is also called.

Boston_Corbett 6 years, 4 months ago

I keep expecting the marshmallow man to walk around the corner of the Oread and be confronted by the Ghostbusters.

Matthew Herbert 6 years, 4 months ago

so long as that awful sculpture stands outside of city hall, I refuse to allow the city to regulate anything based upon it's "tackyness".

gatekeeper 6 years, 4 months ago

My sister-in-law put in this tacky, fake grass at her home in Cali. It is so ugly and kills everything beneath it. There are types of grass that don't require a lot of water and would be much better than this fake cr*p.

hujiko 6 years, 4 months ago

Quoting myself:

"The city cannot bend to every whim or else we'll end up with a blanket of astroturf 27 square miles in area. Don't let developers call the shots, they're only in it for the money and could care less about any sort of historic environs."

no_thanks 6 years, 4 months ago

Couldn't agree more. Lawrence is a dying community, and the focus of this time seems more intent on trying to make a point against the Fritizel's rather than on the merit of aritificial grass.

webmocker 6 years, 4 months ago

oneeye_wilbur (anonymous) says… " . . .One day they will wake up and realize how much time in their life they have wasted."


cummingshawk 6 years, 4 months ago

"The controversy at Tuckaway at Frontier has brought to light there is nothing in the city code that stops homeowners from installing the artificial turf on their property. The portion of city code that prohibits the material applies only to commercial projects and other large developments that require a site plan."

This isn't about homeowners, this is about a developer knowingly going against city code trying to argue after the fact. Tear it out then ask for permission to ignore the seemingly bendable city code. They knew it was wrong prior to installation, now they are throwing specious 'facts' out hoping the real fact that the install is against code is overlooked.

coderob 6 years, 4 months ago

It doesn't sound from the article that he knowingly went against city code, but he still should be responsible enough with his own money know about the restrictions. Make him rip it out just like anyone else would have to.

Kate Rogge 6 years, 4 months ago

Why bother with codes if all the City Commission ever does is lie down in front of every single developer - especially the Fritzels and Compton - instead of enforcing the city codes that everyone else must observe. When this was first reported we knew how this would sort out - he gets whatever he wants. Fritzel knew he was wrong to do this. He flat out does not care. How about standing up to him and seeing how comfortable he is with tearing up the artificial turf at the Tuckaway Apartments and that residence and replacing it with grass?

Jayhawk_4_Life 6 years, 4 months ago

artificial grass makes the whole town come off as fake

juma 6 years, 4 months ago

Hey, KRichards. Great comment but you need to know your facts!!! It is the OGALLALAH aquifer. Type locallity in the town of Ogallalah, Nebraska. And by the way, this aquifer does NOT extend past Western Kansas. Ellis County is the last of it. Learn the facts because your comments lose credibility.

juma 6 years, 4 months ago

Hey KR. Get your head on straight. I am a certified Hydrogeologist. What in the H... does Tuckaway Apts have to do with the Ogallala. Also, The eastern extent you refer to is not true ogallala; but reworked alluvium.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 4 months ago

Who needs bogus grass? There are beautiful rock gardens mixed with very low maintenance attractive ornamental grasses and evergreen leafy bushes. No need to mow rocks.

The question is why do local developers violate codes then seek change in codes? Allowing this to continue only gives a big green light that city codes do not matter. This is not new and turning blind eyes further perpetuates a lawless society.

12th Street Recycling is on the table for the same infraction. Initially the beauty shop building at 13th and Haskell was the seen of a major site plan violation. The new owner brought the building into compliance. The initial well known property owner seem to know damn well he could get by city hall and the city commission.

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