Colorado Woman Receives Compliance Notice to Trim Native Habitat in Her Front Yard

After a four-year long project in which a Lakewood, Colorado woman turned her front yard into a native habitat for local birds, bees, and butterflies, she is trimming her grass down from almost two feet to 8 inches. The reason? Her neighbors’ viewed her tall grasses and native plants as unkempt and derelict, and eventually filed a report with the city.

A chief technology officer for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Sue Zirbes, 60, decided to bring her work home with her and turn her yard into a habitat for native plants, insects, and animals. In its glory, her yard contained 12 species of grass native to Colorado, as well as a variety of local wildflowers, including purple flax, white salsify, and red Jupiter’s beard. Zirbes describes her property as drought-friendly in an area prone to water shortages, stating that it only required 15 minutes of watering every two weeks to keep it in premium condition. Because of this, she was surprised to receive a compliance notice from the Lakewood city government requiring her to trim her grass to 6 inches or less after four years of work.

According to many of her neighbors, the complaint was made because many people worried that Zirbes’ yard was unsightly and endangered the resale values of their own homes, as well as the appearance of their own lawns; at least one neighbor expressed concerns that plants from the habitat could spread to other yards. For her part, Zirbes argues that she weeds meticulously and that the order to trim the grass could destroy her pollinator sanctuary, along with years of difficult work to create a sustainable front yard.

Unfortunately, Zirbes’ neighbors are likely right: research shows that proper landscaping can increase the value of a property by as much as 20%. Additionally, a recent study reported that 63% of respondents stated that they would be willing to pay more for an apartment or house that was located in an area with good green spaces.

“Curb appeal is extremely important, this is the first impression that people will see when looking at your home,” says Nicole Newkirk, Landscape Design at Artistic Group. “Landscaping is the outer shell of the home, it is the very first thing people see when approaching your home. Using local plants are important when landscaping because they are most likely to thrive in the environment and mix well with other local landscaping.”

Since receiving the notice, Zirbes’ has negotiated an amicable agreement with the city of Lakewood: while she will still be required to cut her grass, she will only be required to trim it down to 8 inches instead of six. In light of this, she reports that she has already begun planning ways to improve her habitat. Instead of tall grasses, she will now attempt to grow native plants such as pincushion, lavender, and cacti, which she describes as particularly attractive to bees.

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