Michigan Court Backs Law Forbidding Property Owner from Letting Weeds Grow on Lawn

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Man claims native plants environmentally friendly. Town imposes ordinance outlawing uncut weeds on lawns.

Ann Arbor News reports

A Pittsfield Township man lost his fight over what he views as an environmentally friendly yard Monday night when a district court judge found in favor of the township, which had issued the man a $100 ticket last June.

The ruling, following closing arguments in 14-A District Court, ends a nine-month legal battle between the township and Stanislav Voskov over the yard at his Dalton Avenue home.

It was a debate in which the finer points might have had persons who possess the greenest of thumbs scratching their heads. Central to the case is what it means to "cultivate,'' and to a lesser degree, what constitutes a weed.

The ticket was issued for violating an ordinance that states that weeds may be no longer than 10 inches.

In his ruling, Judge Cedric Simpson threw out a definition provided by a University of Michigan horticulture specialist, who said that if a gardener took a "plant-and-watch'' approach and did nothing else, it could be considered cultivation.

There was a bit more to cultivation, Simpson said, reading definitions from a Webster's Dictionary.

"I'm not here to say whether or not maintaining one's property with native plants or whatnot is a good thing,'' Simpson said. "The sole question is whether the (defendant's) property was in violation of the ordinance on the date in question.''

Voskov and his attorney, Stephen Safranek, argued that the yard was an environmentally friendly project filled with native plants that should not be considered weeds. Safranek, arguing that the plants had matured and weeds were removed as indicated in photos from one year to the following year, said emphatically at one point, "There aren't any dandelions! There aren't any dandelions!''

Jennifer Charnizon, the attorney for the township, said the township was fair in its dealings. After complaints from neighbors since 2006, it was not until 2008 after several contacts with Voskov that the $100 ticket was issued, she said.

"The property looks abandoned,'' she said. "It's for that kind of condition ... that ordinances like this one are put in place.''

The case drew the attention of local environmental groups who supported Voskov. Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner Janis Bobrin said that, based on the photos that appeared in The Ann Arbor News, it appeared Voskov was growing flowers known to be effective at managing stormwater, such as purple coneflowers and black-eyed susan varietals.

Voskov said he was disappointed with the outcome of the court proceedings. He said he has not ruled out an appeal.

"We do think regulations about yards are a good thing,'' he said. "But this is an extreme over-response to our yard.''

Simpson instructed the township to submit its restitution request for attorney fees.

Thanks to Jonathan Turley

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