Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Requiring homeowners to plant non-native Floratam isn't legal

Of all the responses I got to my most recent diatribe against Floratam grass last week, the one that really grabbed me came from Heidi DiGregorio, a retired accountant from New Jersey.

She and her husband, Richard, bought a house in the Villages of Avalon near County Line Road in 2008. Unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with Floratam, the entire lawn was killed off by hard freezes two winters ago.

The DiGregorios had never liked the stuff, hated the way it needed to be nursed along with big doses of water, fertilizer and pesticides. They wanted to replant a hardier turf, DiGregorio wrote, but "the grass down here in our development is mandated to be Floratam."

Wait a minute, I thought, isn't that against the law?

Absolutely, said Alys Brockway, Hernando County's water conservation coordinator, who pointed me to Senate Bill 2080, passed in 2009.

According to the website of the Pasco County Cooperative Extension Service, the law states, "a deed restriction or covenant may not prohibit any property owner from implementing Florida-friendly landscaping on his or her land." (Amazing, isn't it, that just two short years ago, we had a Legislature capable of constructive action?)

DiGregorio can't remember whether she was threatened with a fine or just told by homeowners association members that Floratam was required, at least in the front yard. Bill Rizzetta, president of Tampa's Rizzetta and Co., which manages the subdivision's homeowners association, said at 12:30 p.m. Friday that he doubted he could get back to me regarding the association's landscaping policy on such short notice. And he didn't.

Okay, but we at least know DiGregorio thought she had to plant Floratam, which is a message homeowners associations spread for decades.

They wanted uniformity and the best possible imitation of the standard Northern lawn — never mind that it's not natural in Florida.

And when it came to enforcement, they didn't mess around.

Several years ago, the local Florida Yards and Neighborhoods coordinator — the person responsible for teaching us about drought-tolerant landscaping — decided to practice what he preaches by redesigning his own lawn. There were lots of mulched beds and flowering native plants and very little turf. From what I've been told, it looked great.

And the homeowners association made him dig it up and replace it with Floratam.

That's how crazy the situation was. Even if you wanted to do the right thing, you couldn't.

And in some communities, you still can't, said current Yards and Neighborhoods coordinator John Korycki.

He still hears complaints from residents in the same tough spot as DiGregorio. Unfortunately, it does them no good to call the county Code Enforcement Department or the Southwest Florida Water Management District, he said, because lawmakers failed to assign an agency to enforce the 2009 law.

So, it's been on him to tell homeowners associations not to stand in the way of residents' pursuit of Florida-friendly yards. He's met with most of them in the months since the law was passed, and he thinks the message is sinking in.

He's heard far fewer complaints this year, he said. Even Timber Pines, designed and built out in the heyday of Floratam, is rewriting its landscaping rules.

Another big subdivision, Sterling Hill, didn't stop Pat and Dick Mundy from planting a drought-tolerant yard last year. Like the DiGregorios, they lost their yard to winter freezes. They had already replaced one Floratam lawn at a cost of more than $1,600, Dick Mundy told me, so they weren't about to plant another. So they have Bahia in the front and a garden in the back with native shrubs growing in beds of pine bark mulch.

Now that it's established, Mundy said, it's thriving.

The DiGregorios' sprinkler system went on the blink recently when they were in New Jersey. There are weeds and dead spots in their yard. And in last week's e-mail, Heidi DiGregorio wrote, "we wait for the next threatening letter about our lawn."

Requiring homeowners to plant non-native Floratam isn't legal 04/30/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 30, 2011 3:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Roberto Aguayo, Jonathan Drouin, Tim Beckham are coming for revenge


    Forget the Three Tenors.

    Make it the Three Terrors.

    The 2017 Unfulfilled Expectations Tour is about to hit Tampa Bay.

    From left, former Bucs kicker Roberto Aguayo, ex-Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin and former Rays infielder Tim Beckham. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times; DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times; Getty Images]
  2. Carlton: A moment of sanity when citizens finally said no


    If you were looking for some small sign of sanity in the world, here's one courtesy of the people of Tampa and Hillsborough County.

    The Confederate memorial statue outside the old Hillsborough courthouse is now boxed up in plywood to prevent vandalism. Private donors have ponied up money to have the statue relocated to a cemetery. [JIM DAMASKE  |  Times]
  3. Review: Jason Aldean fires up a country-dude party at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre


    Country music has a dude problem.

    I’m not talking about the proliferation of mindless bro country over the past half-decade, nor am I referring to the fact that most of Nashville’s best music these days comes not from said bros, from female singers and songwriters.

    Jason Aldean performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 18, 2018.
  4. President Trump offers prayers for Kissimmee police


    President Donald Trump reacted to the police shooting in Kissimmee: