The grass will always be greener on the other side of at least one Lawrence fence.
Lawrence city commissioners went against a staff recommendation and agreed on Tuesday to “grandfather in” more than 20,000 square feet of artificial turf that was installed contrary to city code at a west Lawrence apartment complex.
On a 4-1 vote, city commissioners said a development group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel could keep the synthetic turf that was installed at the Tuckaway Apartments at Frontier, which is near Sixth and Frontier.
“I dislike the turf but not enough to warrant pulling it all off of this site,” said Mayor Aron Cromwell. “I think it was overused at this site. But to pull it all off, what a waste that would be.”
Commissioners, though, tried to send a message that they didn’t want to see much more of the artificial turf — either in commercial applications or at private residences. Commissioners directed staff members to craft an ordinance that would require any installation of artificial turf to receive city approval, with a notation that it likely would be approved only in “limited situations.”
City commissioners on Tuesday were told the installation of the synthetic turf at Tuckaway at Frontier violated the city’s commercial landscape code. Commissioners also were told the developers were notified by city inspectors the artificial turf was not an approved use, but installation of the material continued at the site with the hope the city would change the rules at a future date to allow it.
Jane Eldredge, a Lawrence attorney for the development group, said her clients believed the synthetic turf was allowed at the time they purchased the material. That was in part because the city had approved the use of the turf at the Oread hotel, a project also built by a group led by Fritzel.
City planners, though, said the Oread turf was approved as a method of “alternative compliance” to the city’s landscape code, and that it should have been clear the approval at the Oread didn’t clear the way for the product at Tuckaway at Frontier.
City commissioners did express some concern about whether the developer had willfully ignored a city ordinance, but ultimately commissioners said they weren’t willing to order the 22,232 square feet of turf to be torn up.
“I’ve heard people say that it is easier in this town to ask for forgiveness instead of permission,” City Commissioner Mike Dever said. “If that is the case, we need to change that mentality. But tearing up all this material seems like a waste of resources and energy. That is not being good environmental stewards.”
Commissioners did hear from one resident of the apartment complex and two neighbors who said the artificial turf had improved the appearance of the property, which previously was the Boardwalk Apartments, the site of a deadly 2005 fire.
Commissioner Bob Schumm cast the lone vote against providing the turf grandfather status. Schumm said he thought the commission’s action likely would be interpreted as setting a precedent for more artificial turf in commercial settings.
Staff members had proposed a lengthy set of regulations spelling out situations where artificial turf could be used in the future. But commissioners did not adopt those regulations. Instead they opted to craft a simple ordinance that said all future artificial turf installations, including at single-family homes, would have to receive special approval from the City Commission.
In other news, commissioners unanimously agreed to draft agreements with organizations that want to use four pieces of city-owned property to serve as community gardens or vegetable farms. The sites are part of the city’s previously approved Common Ground program, which seeks to promote urban agriculture.