Fake palm trees have made an appearance in west Lawrence; whether they can stay is an open question

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

A builder of the home at 5113 Cedar Grove Way has installed artificial palm trees at the house that is under construction in west Lawrence.

When I saw palm trees at a new west Lawrence home, I knew they weren’t a mirage fueled by Caribbean withdrawal symptoms. (My Caribbean withdrawal mirages usually are of the all-you-can-eat buffets on the cruise ship that used to take me there.)

Indeed, there are palm trees at the home under construction at 5113 Cedar Grove Way. And, yes, they indeed are fake. But are they legal under the city’s code? So far, the city says no.

A curious reader pointed the trees out to me, and I became curious too. I covered the debate at Lawrence City Hall in 2012 over whether artificial grass should be allowed as part of the landscaping plans of homes and businesses. The city ended up sending a bit of a mixed message on that one, and I wondered whether artificial trees had become a new option that I hadn’t yet noticed.

Jeff Crick, the city’s director of planning and development services, told me artificial trees haven’t become an approved use in the city. He pointed to the landscape material standards section of the city’s land development code, which reads, in part: “No artificial plants or vegetation may be used to meet any standards of this section …”

Matt Gish with AllConstruct LLC, is building the home, which is in a newly developing neighborhood a bit south and west of the Harvard Road and Wakarusa Drive intersection. Gish — who is building the home to sell, not to live in personally — said he wasn’t aware of the provision in city code that Crick was citing.

Gish said his reasons for installing the fake palm trees, which are about 20 feet tall or so, are simple: He’s trying to create a Caribbean feel for the home, which will have a pool near the palm trees.

“I suppose the city created the ordinance because they want to protect the city’s look, but I don’t think these hinder that,” Gish said.

Rather, Gish thinks they are just fun.

“There are a lot of people who love them, and it puts a lot of smiles on people’s faces,” Gish said. “When nothing else is green, these will be green.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

The palm tree at 5113 Cedar Grove Way is made of man-made material that is designed to withstand weather conditions, but also must be sealed each year to keep it durable, the builder of the house said.

Gish said he heard from the city only after I inquired about the trees. He said he’d have an attorney read any future violation notice from the city, and then decide whether he agrees with the city’s interpretation of the code. Even if the code does prohibit the trees, Gish still could seek to get a variance from the code provisions to allow the trees to stay.

As for the trees themselves, Gish didn’t give me many details about the product. He did say they are designed to have a very long life, as long as you apply a sealer to the tree annually. He didn’t provide me any information on pricing, although I found some websites that listed trees of about 20 feet in height selling for about $2,000.

When I asked Gish whether these trees penciled out from a cost standpoint, or if they truly were more of a luxury item for a house, he said he had never thought of it that way.

“Obviously, you can’t grow a palm tree in Kansas, so no palm tree is ever going to pencil out here because you would be buying a new one every year,” he said.

That is true. If you want a palm tree in Kansas, this is probably the way to do it.

But, you may want to wait and see how this all plays out at Lawrence City Hall before you get your own.

If you are like me and have a teenager who asks multiple times why we can’t get a new riding mower, you might be more interested in the feasibility of artificial grass. (For the record, my riding mower is not that embarrassing. I’ve heard freight trains that are way louder and seen burning cars that produce far more smoke.) As I mentioned earlier, the city left a bit of a mixed bag on the use of synthetic turf in Lawrence. Commissioners back in 2012 didn’t completely ban its use at homes. Instead, they required that any use of artificial grass be approved by the City Commission before its installation. The city has since shifted that approval authority over to the director of planning. The code doesn’t spell out when or where the artificial grass can be used, but does say it should be of “limited, small-scale use.”

In other words, you probably should warn the neighbors and get that lawn mower started.

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