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To conserve water, St. Petersburg eyes xeriscaping incentives to discourage use of St. Augustine grass

ST. PETERSBURG — To conserve water, city officials want to limit St. Augustine grass, the lush, thirsty turf prevalent among suburban subdivisions, public lawns and golf courses.

The City Council passed an ordinance Thursday that establishes incentives and regulations to discourage the use of St. Augustine turf and promote xeriscaping.

The proposed law would limit the use of St. Augustine grass at private properties with new construction and provide financial incentives such as a partial refund on building permit fees to property owners who do not use any St. Augustine turf.

But the ordinance will have no impact on the miles of St. Augustine grass already planted on city medians, parks and lawns.

Instead, city officials said they have identified more than 20 public sites where they could someday plant drought-tolerant landscaping. But uprooting the grass and replacing it with xeriscaping anytime soon would be too expensive amid ongoing budget struggles, city administrators said.

Environmental activists, however, had hoped the city would lead by example.

City Hall needs to "show they are committed to conserving resources for human beings to drink rather than staring at squares of green," said Beth Connor, a Sierra Club activist. "Why be timid when we are in the middle of a drought? It's time for bold action."

Council member Karl Nurse introduced a far more ambitious version of the proposed measure last year. At the time, he said the city should replace any grass not used for recreational activities, including the lawn outside City Hall, with pine, flowers or other native plants that do not need frequent watering. That proposal had few supporters in City Hall.

Still, the legislation approved Thursday was an important first step, Nurse said.

A public hearing and second affirmative council vote must also take place before the measure becomes law.

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The City Council also voted on a measure that was initially intended to protect taxi drivers and customers following a string of cab robberies in 2008.

Council member Jim Kennedy had suggested the city require cab companies install security cameras and safety shields in their vehicles, but industry leaders pushed back, calling the measure punitive and unnecessary.

The compromise after months of intense policy debate? An ordinance that establishes the same permit requirements for peddlers, cab drivers and fortune tellers.

To conserve water, St. Petersburg eyes xeriscaping incentives to discourage use of St. Augustine grass 05/21/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 25, 2009 5:29pm]

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