City officials need to regain control of their turf.
We’re talking about artificial turf and its usage at both commercial and residential locations.
Tonight, Lawrence city commissioners will be discussing artificial turf that has been installed by local developer Thomas Fritzel at a new apartment complex and at a residential property he owns in Old West Lawrence. Although Fritzel and his attorney maintain that the turf is friendly to the environment and that people might learn to like it if they gave it a chance, there are questions that must be answered before the city allows expanded use of the material.
The artificial turf issue came to the city’s attention after Fritzel installed the fake grass around an apartment complex at Sixth Street and Frontier Road. Although crews were informed by city inspectors while the work was under way that the turf didn’t conform to city code, the developers chose to continue the installation and ask later to have the rules changed to accommodate the turf. City planning staff members apparently weren’t impressed by this approach of asking forgiveness instead of permission and are recommending that the developer be required to tear out thousands of square feet of the artificial turf.
The developers say the city should allow the apartment turf to remain as a test case for the material. Planners contend that more limited use of the turf would be a more prudent way to test the turf’s viability as a landscape material. They are concerned not only about long-term maintenance and appearance of the turf but also with studies that indicate that some artificial turf will have a long-term detrimental impact on the soil it covers.
Of even greater concern, however, is the fact that the city has no regulations concerning the installation of artificial turf in residential neighborhoods. Local residents are probably much less concerned about the use of artificial turf around an apartment complex or office building than they are about any large installation of fake grass by their next-door neighbors. The city planning director said “time will tell whether we need to address” residential uses, but the time to address the issue is now, before any widespread use of artificial turf occurs in residential neighborhoods.
As city officials have pointed out, there are many xeriscaping and native plant options that reduce water usage while maintaining an attractive landscape. Limited use of artificial turf may be an acceptable option for both commercial and residential property, but the city needs to set — and enforce — reasonable regulations that address both the aesthetic and environmental issues connected with the material.