By Joyce Coronel
Bob Wolfe stood in front of his neighbor’s home admiring the yard’s lush green carpet, wishing he could coax the spotty Bermuda on his own property to flourish with the same manicured splendor of a tournament-quality golf fairway.
The neighbor, Jim Byrne, is a real estate attorney. Both men have lived in the upscale neighborhood, threaded with miles of bike paths and dotted with graceful greenbelts, for 30 years.
“Doesn’t it look great?” Wolfe said as he bent down to examine Byrne’s lawn. “All they did is replace grass that they already had that looked bad. They didn’t do anything else.”
Not according to the Warner Ranch Phase One architectural committee.
Byrne has been accused of violating the community’s covenants, conditions and restrictions, commonly referred to in homeowner association parlance as “CC&Rs.”
That’s because Byrne’s lawn is actually synthetic grass. Not that, it should be noted, the same tacky stuff that sprang up in suburbia during the 1960s. The modern incarnation is virtually indistinguishable from the verdant rye grass that adorns much of the Tempe neighborhood from October to May.
The architectural committees for Phase I and Phase II of Warner Ranch do not allow faux vegetation in the front yards of residents’ home. Phase III does, however.
All three neighborhoods require that homeowners submit plans in writing to the architectural committee prior to making any changes or alterations to their front yards.
Bob Wolfe submitted his request to the committee to install synthetic grass last summer and in a 5-2 vote, the board denied his request. A subsequent appeal was also denied.
In an Aug. 24, 2015, letter Wolfe provided to Wrangler News, Diana Ebertshauser, community manager of the neighborhood, stated that the committee had reviewed Wolfe’s application and denied it because “artificial turf is not considered an organic/natural part of a front yard landscape.”
Wolfe pointed to a nearby home with extensive cement in the front yard. “How is that natural and organic?” Synthetic grass, he said, is better for the environment because it doesn’t need to be watered, fertilized or trimmed.
Wolfe has hired an attorney to represent him, and Byrne, although an attorney himself, said he will likely hire separate counsel should the committee continue to insist he remove the synthetic grass he installed months ago—unquestioned until Wolfe made an application for his own property.
“I do feel this is an abuse of power,” Byrne said. “They are acting outside the scope of their authority. Their authority is based on their governing documents and the governing documents do not prohibit artificial turf.”
In a statement to Wrangler News regarding the synthetic grass brouhaha, Chad M. Gallacher, an attorney for Warner Ranch Phase I, outlined some of the architectural committee’s objections. “The decision of the Warner Ranch Master Board to disallow artificial turf was not hastily made, but was the product of deliberate and careful consideration,” Gallacher’s statement reads.
Gallacher then went on to list five reasons for the board’s decision:
“1) Artificial turf does not have the natural cooling characteristics of real grass, and can increase temperatures. 2) Dogs and cats routinely wander into front yards despite owners’ best attempts to control access. Outdoor cats, including and especially stray cats, cannot effectively be prevented from urinating in front-yard artificial turf. This can result in excessive urine odors and bacterial buildup that is not easily cleaned and washed away. 3) Weed control over time can become a problem. As water seeps through the drainage holes in the artificial turf, it provides a fertile environment for weeds. Just as weeds can emerge through the drainage holes, seeping water can create open channels under artificial turf surface. 4) It is difficult for the architectural committee to insure aesthetics, including the quality of materials and installation methods chosen, with respect to artificial turf. 5) There are alternatives for saving water, including landscaping options that do not have the negative effects of artificial turf. “
Meanwhile, Kim Christiensen, a Warner Ranch Phase III owner who had synthetic grass installed 18 months ago, said the architectural committee in his neighborhood was “very open to it” and gave its approval. Warner Ranch Phase I, II and III each has its own board and differing CC&Rs, however none specifically addresses the subject of artificial turf.
“The reason why we even considered this was because I couldn’t keep the grass growing. I had it dug up, re-sodded and everything,” Christiensen said, adding that he’d referred four or five neighbors to the company that laid the turf for him. “The (neighbors) think this is terrific. They say, ‘We get to look at this.’”
When asked if his synthetic lawn heats up in the summer, one of the objections cited by Phase I, Christiensen replied that his “grandkids play on this thing all year long. It doesn’t get too hot for us.”
Doug Kimball, president of Warner Ranch Phase III’s homeowner association, provided a statement as to why synthetic grass was permitted in the front yards of residents in his phase of the development.
“Our CC&Rs do not address artificial turf specifically, so the committee bases its decision on the overall proposal and the quality/look of the proposed turf … The HOA board “accepts the architectural committee’s judgment for approval on a case by case basis,” Kimball’s statement reads. Byrne insists he has not violated Phase I guidelines.
“It’s not structural, it’s not architectural. It’s part of landscaping maintenance,” Byrne said. “It’s real simple: I replaced real grass with artificial grass. Why would I go and ask their approval? What would they approve?”
His neighbors tell him the grass “looks real nice,” he said, and are surprised to find out it’s synthetic. “This is a situation I feel where there’s one or two people on the board dictating their personal preferences,” Byrne said.
Terry and Ron Rossello, also residents of Phase I, installed synthetic grass and have been asked by the architectural committee to remove it. Wolfe says he has gathered the signatures of more than 90 neighbors who support his campaign to allow synthetic grass in the area. Julie, his wife, hopes the HOA will evolve with the times.
“When we moved in here, you couldn’t have a satellite dish and other things. So they have kept up with the times that way, but this issue seems to be just such a stalemate.”
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