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The grass is greener, but it's not real

The owner of a flooring company and city officials are waging a turf war _ over artificial turf.

Ed Ehlen said he installed the fake grass around his new waterfront home, valued at about $4-million, because he wanted to conserve water.

"It's just environmentally friendly," he said. "We have such a water problem in southwest Florida. You don't have to water. You don't have to fertilize. There's a lot of good things about it."

But city officials have declined to grant Ehlen a certificate of occupancy to let him move in until the plastic lawn is removed. Officials in the affluent community on the Gulf of Mexico are recommending a change in the city landscaping code to ban the turf.

Ehlen, who paid $19,000 for the turf and installation, has hired an attorney and says he is willing to sue. Ehlen said he will not budge unless the city is prepared to reimburse him and pay to water and maintain a real lawn.

His protest is well under way. He had a portion of his home painted pink with purple and green polka dots. The city has no restrictions on paint colors.

Greg Niles, community development director, said he does not think the synthetic grass is consistent with the current landscaping code, and it wasn't intended as a viable landscaping option in the island city of 15,000 year-round and 35,000 seasonal residents.

Later this month the planning board will discuss the proposed ban, which Niles said would "make crystal clear that synthetic material cannot be used."

Niles said the city conducted tests that found that heavy rains and flooding would dislodge rubber pellets in the turf used to make the artificial fibers stand up to appear more natural. He said the city was concerned that the pellets would get into the city's storm sewer system and canals, and potentially threaten birds and fish.

The turf, made popular by professional sports franchises in the 1970s, has been banned by neighborhood associations in Clearwater, Las Vegas and Hilton Head, S.C.

While there are advantages to the low-maintenance yard _ no pesticides, watering or mowing _ the turf absorbs less rainwater, increasing runoff.

"You might as well pave," said Kim Trebatoski, principal environmental planner in neighboring Lee County. "You're not providing anything beneficial environmentally."

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