A tiff over turf is about to be resolved in neighborhoods across the state, thanks in part to Warner Ranch residents, who for years have professed that, where grass is concerned, it is easy being green, even if not from nature.
Although the path forward is a bit muddy.
Gov. Doug Ducey in late March signed into law a bill that prevents Arizona homeowners associations from imposing blanket bans on artificial turf, if they already allow natural grass on members’ property. The law becomes effective 91 days after the end of this legislative session.
For longtime Warner Ranch residents Bob and Julie Wolfe, who take no credit for the unanimous passage of House Bill 2131, the action signals the end of their lengthy crusade to lay a small patch of synthetic grass in their front yard.
“I want my property to look good all year long,” said Bob Wolfe, whose south-facing front yard is shaded by a beautiful, large mesquite tree that also prevents his Bermuda grass from growing well.
“This is a win for homeowners who want the appearance of natural grass without the expense and the waste of water and the use of chemicals.”
Wrangler News reported in a June 3, 2016, story that Wolfe’s application to the Warner Ranch Phase One board of directors was denied, 5-2. The board ruled “artificial turf is not considered an organic/natural part of a front yard landscape.”
Julie Wolfe said dissenters used old data to suggest that synthetic grass has a short lifespan and poses health hazards, such as cancer.
“The manufacturing has changed in 20 years, and the grass is a better product now,” she said. “And, if you want to talk about health and safety, there’s fertilizer, weed killer and pollution from gas-powered mowers and blowers (with natural-grass maintenance). You could have hazards from gravel. There are hazards everywhere if you look for them.”
After the board denied his appeal, Wolfe began circulating a petition to compel the board to allow synthetic grass in frontyard landscapes. It was signed by nearly 80 percent of his neighbors, he said, but the board did not act upon it.
A bill to curtail HOAs from banning artificial grass, sponsored by Rep. John Kavanaugh, R-Fountain Hills, failed in 2017. Kavanaugh drafted a new measure this year. Wolfe called and e-mailed his neighbors to ask them to lobby their legislators to support the bill, but he doesn’t think that’s what led to its passage.
“There was finally enough support from legislators because of the water problems we have,” Wolfe said, referring to the catastrophic drought situation in the West. “That’s what drove this.”
Federal officials reported last week that they are considering taking emergency action because of a steep drop in Lake Powell, on the Arizona-Utah border. The lake, on which a huge dam produces and supplies hydropower to an estimated 5 million customers across the West, fell below 3,525 feet for the first time in March.
Officials may need to reduce water deliveries to users on the Colorado River to prevent the dam’s shutdown.
“We have a problem with water here, and if we don’t solve it, it’s going to be rationed,” Wolfe said.
The new law allows HOAs to create “reasonable rules regarding the installation and appearance of artificial turf.” These include the location and percentage of grass allowed and its removal or replacement if turf it is not maintained to an association’s standards.
The law maintains an HOA’s ability to enforce “both the express and reasonably implied intent” of any rules governing design standards to protect the natural environment of a community.
Wolfe said he is “moderately” happy with the law, and is hopeful that the HOA board will create design standards for artificial turf that are fair. Days after Ducey signed the bill, Wolfe sent a list of proposed guidelines to Diana Ebertshauser, the neighborhood’s HOA community manager, “that might make compliance with the law easy and avoid possible needless litigation.”
In an April 7 email that Wolfe shared with Wrangler News, Ebertshauser stated a resolution was being reviewed by an attorney, and that the board would vote on it on April 20. However, Ebertshauser told homeowners in an April 15 email that the board decided to remove the item from the April meeting agenda and that it was being tabled until its July meeting.
There was no explanation for the delay. Ebertshauser did not respond to calls and emails from Wrangler News seeking explanation.
For the Wolfes, whose backyard pool is surrounded by hardscape and low-water-use plants, such as agaves, oleander, cactus and gorgeous pink bougainvillea, the new law can’t come soon enough.
“This just isn’t a place where you have to water all the time to have a beautiful yard,” Julie Wolfe said.
This is a no-brainer! Folks, we are in a draught and farmers that grow products that we all use everday are having their water rationed. Good quality, properly maintained artificial turf is just as beautiful as natural turf and over the long run much more efficient. I would object if poor quality reused turf was installed in the property next to me but to know that the water saved on the lawn is available for my swimming pool.
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