By: Stuart Benson
When Samuel Cloutier and Jazmine Maisonneuve built a new workshop on their property at 57 Rue Principale in Masham, they chose to forego a traditional lawn on their property and instead decided to sow wildflowers for a more natural meadow. Last summer, the couple was informed by the La Pêche municipality that the vegetation violated a rarely used bylaw mandating how long your lawn can grow and could face a $400 fine, though the fine was never officially applied.
One year later, the couple is once again facing a $400 fine if they refuse to mow their lawn.
“We believe one of our neighbours lodged a complaint,” Maisonneuve said, though she could only speculate as to whom might have taken issue with the meadow. Maisonneuve also pointed out that, while all of her neighbours’ well-trimmed lawns are currently brown and scorched from the heat, her meadow is green and thriving.
“There's a huge ecosystem happening there,” Maisonneuve explained. “There are lots of pollinators, frogs, snakes, and in the last two years, there was a family of foxes – kits and their momma – and rabbits as well.”
During the last conversation Cloutier had with the municipality this past week, it was suggested that to end the conflict Cloutier could get a letter from a biologist supporting their claim that the lawn was a haven for pollinators and wildlife, which they did. However, after providing the report to the municipality, Cloutier was told that the municipality required a more detailed report, specifying geographically where all of the different species of flora were located on the property. Cloutier and Maisonneuve refused to comply, citing that they weren’t willing to pay a biologist $100/hr to return and identify an acre’s worth of flowers.
“It's a bit of a standoff, [but] we're willing to fight this one if we have to take this to court,” Maisonneuve said, citing at 2006 case in Chelsea when resident Jill Rick refused to mow her natural meadow in the face of a $75 fine. “We've had overwhelming support for this on social media; people agree this [bylaw] needs to change.”
Fortunately, one of those people who agrees the bylaws are in need of change is La Pêche Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux.
Lamoureux said that, while there is an urbanism bylaw that states lawns should be no longer than 15 centimetres, he believes that this part of the bylaw is obsolete and unenforceable and will need to be removed when the municipality proceeds with its review. However, because there was a complaint, the municipality had to follow their nuisance bylaw which states: “Lawns must be maintained and not present an invasive or unsightly appearance that offends in its environment.”
This is a flexible bylaw that allows for interpretation and leeway,” Lamoureux said. “Neighbours almost always manage to strike a balance between their respective environmental values and aesthetic expectations.”
As for the biological assessment, Lamoureux said those are only usually required to locate wetlands or shorelines before construction can take place, and said that the municipality did not initially request the assessment, but that it was a decision Maisonneuve and Cloutier took themselves.
“I am told it is the first time someone has chosen to produce such a report in a case like this,” Lamoureux said. “Nonetheless, the report the inspector received failed to locate on the plan the various plants and areas of interests the owners intended to highlight, which was then indicated to the owners.”
Lamoureux also added that, as far as he or any of the urbanism officers he asked could remember, no resident has ever received a fine for not maintaining their lawns in La Pêche and that the effort a fine would require over lawn maintenance just simply isn’t worth the time.
“This also applies to the property at 57 Rue Principale,” Lamoureux said. “We have … issued no fine for [the] unkempt lawn.”
Lamoureux added that residents who wish to encourage pollinators and wildlife are free to do so, but should try to limit the spread of invasive or allergenic species, not allow plants to grow tall above their septic fields and should try to maintain good relationships with their neighbours.
“No amount of bylaws can replace discussion, courtesy and common sense,” Lamoureux added.