Go Green with Florida-Friendly Outdoor Improvements
When it comes to lawn care, Floridians now have additional options for creating environmentally friendly backyards. While homeowner associations have limited lawn types in the past, residents of Jacksonville, and those living in the North and Northeast parts of Florida, have legislator support to convert their landscapes into green outdoor improvements.
Homeowner associations require tenants to adhere to rules that govern the appearance of lawns. Mainly these ordinances require residents to grow St. Augustine grass, or in areas such as St. Petersburg, association rules require residents use sodded grass. Homeowners who want to transition to landscapes that use native plants, now have additional support from legislators. This means that homeowners have the opportunity to covert sod into eco-friendly options without repercussions from homeowner associations.
In October 2001, lawmakers passed a bill allowing homeowners to switch from sod lawns to xeriscaping (now replaced by “Florida friendly”), a technique that develops attractive landscapes without relying on mass amounts of water, pesticides and fertilizers. The law also states that homeowner associations cannot take legal action against those who convert to eco-friendly options. Senate Bill (SB) 2080, which Governor Crist signed into law in June 2009, extends the 2001 law by letting homeowners switch to “Florida-friendly” options without breaking association rules.
Associations are concerned that any deviation from the norm will spoil the reputation of gated and upscale communities known for their lush and bright-green lawns. Moreover, associations are concerned that the government is taking away their rights to enforce standing community rules. However, these past and recent laws ensure that residents have options that will not deter from the standards of their communities.
For long-standing residents who do not want to upset neighbors or association rules, there is a St. Augustine grass option available. Floridians now have a choice to use Captiva, a new type of St. Augustine grass. Captiva uses a process of reclaimed water so homeowners cut down on their water intake. For some homeowners, irrigation costs account for approximately 50 percent of all home water usage. Captiva reduces these costs because this type of grass grows slower and requires less mowing and watering.
Using the above method helps Floridians do their part to conserve water and energy, without sacrificing a yard’s look. In addition to using Captiva to get around association rules, local governments have the authority to provide homeowners and contractors additional tax breaks and incentives to go green. By building green, homeowners take advantage of lower energy costs, tax credits, and utility company rebates.
Furthermore, developers who exceed water-efficient principles, receive reductions in city and/or county permit applications. This allows developers to continue to manage costs to build sites and greenery for their clients. Individual residents are not required to submit a design plan that meets or exceeds the “Florida-friendly” principles. However, those who submit plans, receive reductions in utility-water charges, permit fees, and property taxes.
Lawmakers state that SB 2080 works to protect the integrity of the environment and its water resources. However, environmentalists argue that a last-minute addendum to the bill harms peoples’ rights to obtain permits. This addendum shifts responsibility of granting water permits to executive directors and staff of Florida’s five-water management districts. Previously, a water-management governing board granted permits to residents who made their cases at public hearings.
While the ability to approve water permits still generates debate, some points remain clear. Citizens who convert to green options receive additional tax breaks and they no longer fear fines from their homeowner associations. At a time of severe drought, homeowners should seize the opportunity to create green outdoor improvements while taking advantage of the rewards that come from using renewable energy to conserve Florida’s water supply.