Bylaw enforcement officers making us look like a dumb backward city.

News 100 greenBy Doreen Nicol

August 20th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

The Gazette became aware of this situation earlier today.

You won’t know whether to laugh or cry. When things go amuck at city hall – they really go amuck.

The Mayor and much of Council is in Ottawa at the AMO conference – the Deputy Mayor is your best hope at this point to put a stop to this stupidity. Send an email to the Deputy Mayor and ask her to put a stop to this bit of nonsense.

On April 23, Burlington city council unanimously passed Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan’s motion to declare a climate emergency.

“By declaring a climate emergency, Burlington City Council is recognizing the magnitude of the challenge we face in combating climate change,” Nisan said in a press release. “But it is only one step. Through the declaration, we have requested a comprehensive climate action plan by the end of the year and that plan is where we will begin to make real, practical change for Burlington.”

According to local environmentalist Vince Fiorito, “Given the context of the city declaring a climate change emergency, noisy, smelly, green house gas emitting lawn mowers and leaf blowers should be discouraged.”

But a Burlington resident and her family are finding that the city is not living up to its promises. The resident in question has cultivated a naturalized garden area in their front yard to encourage genetic diversity, support native species, and create a supportive habitat for a variety of insects and local wildlife.

Doreen article pic - Altheia's milkweed

A natural garden has the by-law enforcement people doing their duty.

Fearing retribution from neighbours, I was asked to not use this resident’s real name so we’ll call her Antheia, after the goddess of flowers.

Antheia says, “I have been maintaining a naturalized area since 2015 and the City of Burlington has repeatedly told me I am in violation of the by-laws despite the by-laws allowing for naturalized areas. Every year they mischaracterize my naturalized area as a lawn and demand that I cut everything down to less than 8 inches or they will come and do it themselves and charge me.”

When the city inspected Antheia’s property in 2015, it took no action. In 2016, the city inspected the property again and issued a non-compliance notice. Antheia informed the city that she was maintaining a naturalized area as defined by bylaw No. 12-2011 as, “a yard or a portion of a yard containing vegetative growth that does not form part of a natural garden that has been deliberately implemented to produce ground cover, including one or more species of wildflowers, shrubs, perennials, grasses or combinations of them, whether native or non-native, consistent with a managed and natural landscape other than regularly mown grass.”

Antheia was informed by email and phone that the city could not qualify her property as a naturalized area, and that municipal employees would cut her plants to the required height for lawns of less than eight inches.

When city workers arrived to cut Antheia’s naturalized area, she called the police. The attending officers asked the workers to leave Antheia’s property. The officers left without incident and no further action was taken that year.

Then in 2017, without any notice, the city trespassed on Antheia’s property while she was not home and decimated the entire naturalized area. Milkweed, wild flowers, native species — many of which were perennials — and a bush were all cut to the required height for a lawn of less than eight inches. This effectively destroyed the portions of the garden needed by monarch butterflies, pollinators, birds, and small animals.

In 2018, the city made significant changes to the lot maintenance bylaw and replaced the law under which Antheia’s garden had been decimated, No. 12-2011, with new bylaw No. 59-2018. Antheia retained a lawyer to tell city workers to understand that she was maintaining a naturalized area. That summer the city took no action.

Things were looking good for Antheia’s case in 2019 after a bylaw enforcement officer deemed her property a naturalized area. But just a couple of weeks later, a second bylaw enforcement officer issued a non-compliance notice that mischaracterized the naturalized area as a lawn. Antheia was once again threatened with the destruction of her entire naturalized area.

Through discussions with a supervisor, Antheia was assured her property could be maintained as a naturalized area and was in fact in compliance. Yet, one month later, after allegedly receiving many complaints from neighbors, the city sent Antheia a letter demanding she cut everything — all the same plants that were in her yard when the city had deemed it in compliance — to less than eight inches.

Supported by countless research studies and anecdotal observations from native species gardeners, Antheia is absolutely right when she asserts, “Natural deep-rooted plants, like the ones on my property, are vital to helping the climate crisis. The deep roots from perennial species bring the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere down into the soil where it is locked away and stored. Each year I have seen many monarch butterflies drinking the nectar from, and laying their eggs on, the milkweed on my property. At a time when pollinator species are at risk, the city should be encouraging naturalized areas not trying to destroy them.”

Lawns are butterfly and pollinator deserts. But Canadians have been indoctrinated to believe that only a high maintenance manicured lawn of grass with a few strategically placed continuously flowering, non-native plants is acceptable landscaping.

Fiorito points out, “Landscape design is an art form. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects our right to freedom of artistic expression. The lawn and garden industry creates perceptions of problems where none exist to sell us their expensive solutions, many of which are real environmental problems.”

According to Fiorito, it’s hard to justify protecting lawns and not naturalized areas, “Given the current global biodiversity crisis and the fact that none of Halton Region’s 48 species at risk of extinction require grass to exist and thrive. Supporting lawns that take up space that could be better used to create habitat for local endangered species is hard to justify.”

So, it’s time that environmentalists, naturalized gardeners, and those people who want to leave a better world — one where there is hope for a future — to take a stand. Let the City of Burlington know that being given the distinction of being declared the No. 1 city in Canada by Maclean’s comes with responsibilities. Those responsibilities include living up to its commitment to address the climate emergency. Accepting and encouraging residents to embrace naturalized gardens — with their low carbon footprints, genetic diversity, and supportive ecosystems — is one small step towards fulfilling that commitment.

For everyone who wants to help save Antheia’s naturalized area before the city cuts it down on August 20 and for those who want to nudge Burlington closer to meeting the meteoric goal of taking a first step to putting the brakes on the climate crisis, here is the email address for the Deputy city manager – she may be the only person at city hall able to do something this week.  Tanner can be reached at:  marylou.tanner@burlington.ca

To inspire those of you who may be hesitant to help out, read my blog from last July when readers from across the country came together to let Burlington know that I shouldn’t have to remove my milkweed from my garden. One week later, the bylaw in question was changed.

Doreen Nicol - Raise the HammerDoreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist, and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.  she has had her share of run ins with the city.

Related news story:

Writer beats back city efforts to remove milkweed from her garden.

 

 

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7 comments to Bylaw enforcement officers making us look like a dumb backward city.

  • Eve St Clair

    In all fairness ,By law Officers work off of complaints either by councillors or Citizens and are hired and trained to enforce City bylaws enacted by members of council. Please don’t blame them for doing their jobs .

  • Charlie

    Has anyone actually since this property?

    Editor’s note: Charlie is a fraud – the email address he uses is phony. We will not publish any of his comments.

  • Steve

    Lots of room for someone to abuse this law. Front lawn full of overgrown weeds is simply, diversity of foliage. Shove it to the man, with a smile. Yup.

  • david barker

    I have just this minute received the following by email from the deputy mayor:-

    “Thank you for your email and your concerns regarding the naturalized garden. I will share your email content with our staff so your support for naturalized gardens is part of our records on the issue of naturalized gardens.

    The specific matter you are referencing is the subject of litigation and is before the courts. Regrettably, I am unable to comment further.”

    Doreen Nicol can you provide further infill information about the litigation. I do not recall any previous reference to it.

  • david barker

    @Doreen Nicol. It might be helpful for people to get a better understanding of what a naturalized garden looks like to post a picture of it here without – any location identifiers.

  • Hans Jacobs

    It is certainly going to be challenging to balance the competing interests of a neighbourhood that wants to protect its property values and an individual who wants to support the environment by “naturalizing”.

  • david barker

    So let’s get citizens out on August 20th in front of this garden to protect it from being cut. Please let us know where we need to be and when. I’ve sent an email to Tanner.

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