Meadow or mess?

Gene Atwell flies commercial airlines for a living and was looking for something requiring less maintenance while he was away. So he killed the grass in his front, back and side yards in Doylestown Township and planted a meadow seed mix.

The wildflowers came up beautifully! Problem started when they faded away and turned brown. A couple of neighbors in his upscale development called the township and the zoning officer cited Gene back in June for high weeds (over 8 inches tall), poor maintenance, and failure to keep a 25-foot mowed-grass buffer around the perimeter of his property, which is a hair under 1/2 acre.

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Neighbors said his wildflower meadow was unsightly and out of character for their development, which - like a lot of suburban developments - is traditionally landscaped and meticulously trimmed. Gene has nothing against that. He thinks lawn is a poor citizen of the earth, however, and, after seeing the Texas Bluebonnet Trail, he loves the idea and look of wildflowers.

He's been trying to settle the matter with the township, finally whacked down the wildflowers and had the overgrown shrubs pruned. He also appealed the citation, pleaded not guilty and was scheduled for a hearing before a district judge this past Wednesday. Inexplicably, the township withdrew all the charges last week. Well, not exactly inexplicably - this happened two days after I stopped by the township building to ask questions.

Officials there said they had nothing against wildflowers. "This is a maintenance issue," was how township manager Stephanie Mason put it.

Gene is not finished with this fight. He plans to work to change the zoning ordinance to exempt wildflowers from the 8-inch and 25-foot buffer regulations. You can read all about his situation - and what others around the country have to say about similar cases - in tomorrow's Home & Design section. Then you be the judge.

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