Eau Claire relaxing ordinance for No Mow May

Jan. 24—EAU CLAIRE — Lawns will be allowed to grow longer in spring to create more habitat for bees and other pollinating insects, the City Council decided on Tuesday.

Joining the ranks of other cities participating in "No Mow May," Eau Claire leaders opted to postpone enforcement of a city ordinance the limits lawn height.

Previously the city law keeping grass height to seven inches or less went into effect on April 1 and continued until Oct. 31. But an 8-2 vote of the council during its Tuesday meeting pushed the start date back to June 1.

Speaking in favor of the change, Councilman Joshua Miller, a former beekeeper himself, said he hopes it achieves more than just the initial aim of supporting insects that are critical to the pollination of plants.

"That's the obvious goal of No Mow May — more flowering plants and bees," Miller said.

He's hoping that it eventually leads to homeowners thinking more about their lawn's role in the local ecosystem. That could mean voluntarily giving up the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, or devoting a larger portion of their lawns to plants instead of grass.

"That's the long-term goal — to change the thinking of what a lawn should be," Miller said.

Council Vice President Emily Berge said Eau Claire is joining about 30 cities in the state that have signed on to encourage No Mow May.

While the city is doing its part by relaxing its lawn height ordinance during spring, there are community groups helping to promote the No Mow May effort.

Berge noted a local group has raised money to provide yard signs to people who opt not to cut their grass in spring. The signs will help explain the good intention by the longer lawns, which Berge hopes would avoid any tension between them and neighbors who still opt to keep their turf trimmed.

Council President Terry Weld and Councilman Roderick Jones cast the two dissenting votes on Tuesday's No Mow May decision.

Weld said he supports the idea of helping pollinators — a large portion of his own yard is flowering plants as opposed to an all-grass lawn. But he felt that No Mow May isn't the answer to the decline in the pollinator population.

"To me this feels like a short-term band-aid," he said. "I'd rather see us go to another level and make a real difference."

Weld said he'd prefer a policy that would allow and encourage more pollinator habitats on private and public property.

He also alluded to a city staff memo that said a potential downside of No Mow May is there could be more violations that pile up when the grass height limit does go into effect in June.

Enforcement of the city's lawn height limit is done when the city receives a complaint and then sends an employee to verify that grass or weeds have grown higher than seven inches tall at a subject property. Those found in violation are given a notice to mow their lawn. If they don't comply, the city sends over a mowing service to do the job and bills the homeowner.

There was an average of 41 violations of the ordinance each May, according to records the city has for the past five years.

Other business

Also during Tuesday's meeting:

—A 36-unit townhome development planned by Haslewander Properties for a 2.8-acre lot at the corner of Cypress Street and Oakwood Hills Parkway can move forward. The council voted 7-3 to allow the land to be rezoned so multi-family housing can be built there.

—Road construction projects planned this year for Fairfax Street, the South Hastings Way Frontage Road and North Hastings Place were approved by the council. Five alleyway improvement projects also on the agenda were all approved as well.

—Eau Claire will compete against other Wisconsin cities for a grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.'s new Vibrant Spaces program. Eau Claire will be seeking a $50,000 grant to pay half the costs of expanding electrical infrastructure in Phoenix Park. Downtown business groups have pledged to cover the remaining costs for the project.