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Clearwater to take closer look at allowing synthetic lawns

“They’re having to step out of their cozy little bubble world. It’s nice that they at least see the possibilities.” Carol Korotkow, left, on the council working to change the rules to allow her synthetic waterless grass

JIM DAMASKE | Times

“They’re having to step out of their cozy little bubble world. It’s nice that they at least see the possibilities.” Carol Korotkow, left, on the council working to change the rules to allow her synthetic waterless grass

CLEARWATER — Three hours into Thursday's City Council meeting, Mayor Frank Hibbard asked the question that must have been on the mind of someone, somewhere: What about the poop?

Pet poop, that is. Fertilizer of the ages, returned to the land since the dawn of life on earth. People with normal lawns may take the absorbent value of grass for granted. But what if the "grass" is actually plastic?

There was laughing at City Hall, but Dorene Davis, standing before the council, was unshaken. As the owner of Lazy Gecko Greens, an installer of artificial grass, she knew the answer well.

"The urine will penetrate through the drainage holes," she said. "As far as the feces, we recommend, and it's on the maintenance agreements, it needs to be picked up within a reasonable amount of time. . . . It would become unsightly."

The City Council on Thursday took its first step toward allowing fake grass in Clearwater, a victory for crusader Carol Korotkow. The traveling nurse paid $3,300 last summer to install 500 square feet of Mirage waterless grass in her front yard, saving her from watering and the rigor of pulling weeds.

Now, within weeks, city planners and committees will help the council decide whether to change the city regulations regarding "live groundcover."

But before they vote, council members are finding they must educate themselves on the turf's odd new intricacies. How well does it age? How can you clean it? And how should the city deal with, as Hibbard said, the dog-dropped "yuck factor?"

"They're having to step out of their cozy little bubble world," Korotkow said. "It's nice that they at least see the possibilities."

Ground zero for the debate is Korotkow's lawn on Spencer Avenue off Druid Road. The fake grass takes up less than a quarter of her yard; the rest is planted over with beach daisies, society garlic, Texas sage and sunshine mimosas. One can find more fake grass at the city's own Long Center, beneath its Sunshine Limitless Playground.

But when a neighbor complained, Korotkow found herself embroiled in a turf war with code enforcement, which demanded she rip up the lawn or face a $100-a-day fine.

Joined by Davis and the industry-backed Synthetic Turf Council, Korotkow pledged to take her fight to City Hall. Her cause grew into water conservation, which she said was being stymied by the old ideas about Florida landscaping.

"I'm not a treehugger. I'm not all, 'go out and save the spotted owl,' " Korotkow said. "It's just ridiculous to think water's not an issue, when it is."

But updating the rules, the council said, wouldn't be a simple task. Officials would need to account for as many loopholes, risks and unintended consequences as they could before allowing the imitation grass.

Vice Mayor George Cretekos said he worried too much fake grass would turn the city into a "synthetic desert," or that people might next want artificial trees. Council member Paul Gibson said some yards could see "vast improvement" from the turf, but worried some might plant too little and leave their yard looking spotty or strange.

Hibbard said any change in the law should mandate color, bringing up Boise State University's football field, grounded with a synthetic blue "Smurf turf." But even agreeing on a green introduced a new debate.

"In some cases, it's too green," council member Bill Jonson said. "Are there standards for greenness?"

Buying a synthetic lawn is much like buying a carpet. Korotkow was offered a variety of fake grasses, including St. Augustine and Bermuda. She chose the Kentucky bluegrass, which reminded her of her years in Long Island.

Installers rolled the grass out like a rug, seaming the 12-foot-wide strips together and grounding them with metal stakes. Over the top they poured half a ton of sand, which settled beneath the "blades," weighing it down.

The grass does not need mowing or edging or spraying for bugs. Instead of raking leaves, Korotkow sucks them up with her Shop-Vac.

The issue will likely head next to the city's Environmental Advisory Board, the Community Development Board and planning officials for review before the council's vote. But not all council members expect a clean-cut response.

"I do have a little bit of a concern," Jonson said, "that we're dumping this in a cabinet in the cabin, and we expect our bear skinner to skin this bear, along with a lot of other bears that are in there to be skinned."

Meaning? "We're asking for a lot."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@sptimes.com.

Clearwater to take closer look at allowing synthetic lawns 07/22/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 22, 2011 8:21pm]
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