Homeowner stops mowing lawn claiming it's "Wildlife Habitat"

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A South Bend homeowner stopped mowing his lawn, claiming it's a "Wildlife Habitat." And, according to municipal code, it appears he found a loophole in the city's standard lawn maintenance laws. Now, city code enforcement officials say they don't know what, if anything, can be done. While neighbors are concerned about property values and potential health hazards. 

“Look at this. Look at this grass.” Marvin Crayton, who lives behind the home on S. Falcon Street, said. “This guy moved in here last fall and hasn’t cut his grass at all... It is a public health concern. You have all of those mosquito’s and stuff, bringing disease.”

South Bend City Code mandates that grass and weeds be no taller than 9-inches. However, there's an exemption for "Natural Landscaping Vegetation." The exemption requires a wildlife habitat certificate to be presented to code enforcement if there is ever a complaint and investigation. The owner of the home, Michael Haskel has one that he applied for and received from a website for the National Wildlife Federation. The NWF is a non-profit organization, not a government agency.

With the certificate, he is now exempt from the 9-inch rule.

However, the ordinance does allow code enforcement to tell the homeowner to cut the grass back from the front of the home to "half of the setback distance." In this case, it's 12'6". Code enforcement says they have requested that portion of the lawn be cut by Friday. They plan to re-inspect the property on Monday.

Michael Haskel sent an email with the following statement:

We, the owner-occupiers of 302 S Falcon St, would first and foremost like to thank our neighbors and ABC57 news for their longstanding efforts to improve quality of life in our neighborhood. We regret, however, that our neighbors have chosen public and legal confrontation as their tool, rather than first share their concerns with us privately. We are new to the neighborhood and have not met the people making this complaint until today. We would like to take this opportunity to share our perspective and why we have chosen the approach we have to yard maintenance.

The land we occupy does not rightfully belong either to us or to the neighborhood association. Rightfully, this land belongs to its original people, the Native Americans of the Potawatomi and Miami nations, and especially to the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. Ever since the first nations of this continent were evicted as its stewards, we have seen the spiraling collapse of its ecological systems, including plant and animal life. We wish to do our part to aid in the restoration and flourishing of these systems.

Though it's sometimes hard to see, cities are homes to a variety of non-human life. Our yard is still in the very early stages of restoration, but we are already dedicating significant effort to plant a diverse selection of native plants, and will continue to do so. We would much rather spend our energy on making our yard as welcoming as possible to both human and non-human life than bickering with Code Enforcement and the City Council.


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