Janesville Plan Commission sends gardening, landscaping changes back to committee

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Jake Magee
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

JANESVILLEOrdinance changes that would loosen residential gardening and landscaping rules remain in limbo.

After a lengthy discussion Monday, the Janesville Plan Commission sent back to the Sustainable Janesville Committee for the second time proposed ordinance changes that would allow residents to landscape and plant vegetables in much of their front yards, among other things.

The committee had offered proposed ordinance changes to the commission once before, but the commission sent them back to the committee to refine.

The committee returned Monday with alterations. One was to prohibit the planting of corn in front yards to keep the plants from obstructing views.

"Rather than set a height limit on garden plants in the front yard, the SJC recommends banning the planting of corn. They reason banning corn will be easier to enforce than setting a height limit on garden plants," a city memo to the plan commission reads.

A height limit could require several enforcement actions because plants continue to grow throughout a season, according to the memo.

The original ordinance changes would have allowed residents to dedicate up to half of their yards to natural landscaping or garden plants. The commission thought that was too much, so the committee dropped the limit to 40 percent, according to the memo.

Commission member Jens Jorgensen questioned if the difference between 50 percent and 40 percent was large enough. It would be easier for the city to enforce and eyeball how much of a yard is natural versus landscaping or gardening if the allowable amount was only 25 percent, he and Chairman George Brunner said.

Commission member Doug Marklein said the difference between 50 percent and 40 percent of an average front lawn equals dozens of square feet and is a notable difference.

Jorgensen also questioned how allowing front-yard gardening and landscaping could affect property values. He asked how the city might penalize poorly managed yards.

"I don't see how this goes far enough," he said of the ordinance.

The ordinance changes would eliminate the city's permitting process for landscaping. Brunner said that process should remain.

A final alteration to the originally proposed ordinance changes included language to "better define the aesthetic standard" for landscaping.

The Sustainable Janesville Committee originally proposed the ordinance changes to encourage homeowners to grow more biodiverse lawns. In July, the changes went before the commission, which voted to send them back to the committee for alterations.

In August, the Janesville City Council respected the commission's wishes and sent the ordinances back to the committee, which then came up with the additional alterations for the commission to consider.

The commission will take up the issue again after the committee further refines the proposed ordinance changes.

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