Can the government force you to dedicate half of your yard to growing and maintaining plants you do not want?
That is the question posed by a lawsuit filed today in state court by a St. Peters couple, Carl and Janice Duffner, who hope to defeat their city’s unconstitutional turf grass mandate. A city ordinance requires owners of residential property in St. Peters to devote at least half of their yard to growing and maintaining “turf grass.” According to city law, homeowners who do not want to grow turf grass can face fines of up to $500 as well as 10 days in prison – and every day they fail to comply with the city’s demands is treated as a new, separately punishable offense.
Janice Duffner is allergic to grass. Several years ago she and Carl removed all the grass from their yard and began converting it into a large, well-tended flower garden that includes a landscaped hillside and flowers blooming from multiple mulched planting areas that are interspersed with walkways, sitting areas, and small ponds.
“I take a lot of joy in maintaining this beautiful, calming environment, and it was a relief to have limited my exposure to grass pollen,” Mrs. Duffner said. “I don’t understand why the city wants to force me to tear up part of my garden and replace it with something that makes me feel bad.”
When city officials told the Duffners that their flower garden was violating the turf grass mandate, they asked for a variance that would let them keep their flower garden as it is, without adding any grass. The city determined that granting the variance would not endanger the community’s health, safety, or welfare, but nevertheless demanded that the Duffners must plant turf grass on at least five percent of their yard – and it also added a twist.
“Even though the law lets everyone else in the city choose to plant the required grass in their back yards, the city ordered us to plant it in our front or side yards,” Mr. Duffner explained.
“This is one of the most bizarre laws I have ever seen,” said Dave Roland, the Duffner’s attorney and Director of Litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri. “At a time when people all over the country are realizing that grass lawns are environmentally unfriendly, St. Peters is demanding residents to grow grass and threatening them with fines and prison if they choose to grow flowers instead.”
The Duffners filed their legal challenge against the turf grass mandate because both the U.S. Constitution and the Missouri Constitution protect property owners against governmental efforts to dictate what owners must grow on their property and where.
“I am not aware of any court in the entire country that has allowed a city to force its citizens involuntarily to grow government-dictated plants in government-dictated locations around the citizens’ homes,” Roland stated. “The city is unconstitutionally assuming authority to make decisions that properly belong to the homeowners, and we intend to nip it in the bud.”