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'Florida friendly' landscaping bill threatened

MANATEE — A bill that would give Florida homeowners unprecedented freedom to make their landscaping drought-resistant, even if they live in deed-restricted areas like Lakewood Ranch, has instead raised the ire of environmentalists.

Senate Bill 2080, if signed by Gov. Charlie Crist, would allow residents in communities controlled by homeowner associations to replace all their sod with “Florida friendly” plants requiring low amounts of water and fertilizer.

That’s a good thing, environmentalists say, but a last-minute amendment to the bill by Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, that would allow the executive directors of each of the state’s five water management districts to solely approve water-use and development permits, is unacceptable, says Glenn Compton, chairman of ManaSota-88.

Currently, those permits are handled by the state water’s governing board and the public has input.

While the lawmakers wrestle with that part of the bill, the portion that would prevent homeowners’ associations from having jurisdiction over lawns has some in Lakewood Ranch and other communities taking notice.

“If we are still in a severe drought with people’s lawns dying, people will ask, ‘Do I replace the lawn or do I replace the lawn with plants?’” Greenbrook resident Mike Spring said.

Right now, of Lakewood Ranch’s roughly 6,000 homes, none has zero sod and all have a percentage of sod and plants.

“Everyone, as far as I know, has some sod,” Spring said.

Lakewood Ranch’s declaration of covenants and original design criteria specifies a certain percentage of sod on each yard, but it doesn’t say what that percentage is, and apparently no one has ever asked to have zero sod.

But they may now.

“If this Senate bill passes, it will move the debate to the forefront as to whether homeowner associations have to right to require some sod,” Compton said.

Spring has a small yellow “peanut perennial” flower in his front yard bed. Other houses on his street in Greenbrook Run also have beds, many with Florida friendly plants. But no one on his street has no sod.

As Spring correctly noted Tuesday as he toured some of the yards on his street, the sod has brown patches while most of the beds remain green.

The new bill has confused some who recall a bill passed a few years ago making it legal for all Florida homeowners to have xeriscape yards.

Xeriscape refers to a non-green, desert-like, “Western USA” yard that uses little or no water.

Apparently, that bill didn’t have much impact. No one has requested a modification in Lakewood Ranch for a xeriscape yard, according to Town Hall records.

The new bill seems to replace the word xeriscape with “Florida friendly.”

“It limits the public to have input,” Compton said. “It started out good, encouraging homeowners to reduce water use by putting in Florida-friendly landscaping.”

Crist was expected to act on the bill over the next few days, Compton said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.

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