SUBSCRIBER EXCLUSIVE

House bill allows artificial turf for lawns

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PHOENIX — If you like the look of a green lawn but hate the water waste and cost, state lawmakers are moving to provide some relief.

Without dissent, the Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to a measure that would ban homeowner associations from telling residents they can’t take out their natural lawns and replace it with artificial turf. The measure, which was approved with nearly similar language by the House, now needs a roll-call vote.

Monday’s action stems from complaints from some individuals who found themselves facing fines for their decisions to opt for what they consider a more ecologically friendly alternative.

Dennis Legere, founder of the Arizona Homeowners Coalition, told lawmakers this is not carte blanche for residents to put in anything the want, no matter how it looks.

He pointed out that House Bill 2131 would allow HOAs to adopt “reasonable rules regarding the installation and appearance of artificial turf.” And it allows the association to regulate how much of the property can be covered with artificial grass.

But the legislation, sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, makes it clear the rules cannot be so strict as to bar all types of artificial grass. And the limit on the percentage that can have artificial turf cannot be any smaller than the amount of property covered by natural grass.

Lobbyist Kathy Senseman, who represents a homeowner in the middle of a fight with her association in Paradise Valley, argued there’s no reason for a prohibition.

“We’d like natural grass and artificial grass to be treated the same,” she said. And Senseman said it’s more than just a personal preference.

“Homeowners that have done this have saved between 60% and 70% of their water usage since doing it,” she said. “We believe in property rights. We believe in that water conservation.”

And Senseman said the idea is not particularly radical.

“Most new homes are putting in artificial grass to begin with,” Senseman continued. “We just don’t think that HOAs that allow natural grass should be able to also be able to say, ‘You can have natural grass, you just can’t have artificial.’”

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said that makes sense to her.

“We live in a desert and we need to conserve water,” she said. “We can’t have organizations prohibiting artificial turf or grass.”

Aside from the permission for HOA to set reasonable aesthetic standards, the measure does have one other key exception.

It spells out that associations can prohibit installing artificial turf if they have “unique vegetation and geologic characteristics that require preservation by the association.”

Senseman said there are reasons for that verbiage.

“In Tucson, for example, they will have a lot of natural landscaping,” she explained, which is part of the overall appearance of the community. The idea, Senseman said, is not to add artificial grass.

But she said there are other examples.

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said there are communities built around what is already there and do not want the character changed.

Consider, he said, The Boulders community that straddles Scottsdale and Carefree. It is named after the huge granite boulders located throughout the property.

Adding artificial turf, he said, would not be appropriate.

Then there’s Hoffman’s own residence in a development built in the middle of about 2,000 pecan trees. The rules there, he said, require 90% of the land to be unpaved.

More to the point, Hoffman said, the natural turf keeps the area cooler, which he said is better for the pecans.

This isn’t the first time state lawmakers have moved to adopt restrictions on what rules HOAs can impose on those living there.

For example, legislators have overridden regulations that bar residents from posting signs in support of or opposition to candidates and issues. And certain rules barring off-street parking also have fallen to legislative action.

Just this year the House already has adopted a proposal that allows HOA residents to fly flags honoring “first responders.” That measure, House Bill 2010, awaits Senate action.

There is precedent for that action.

The original law allowed the display of only state and federal flags.

That was expended to include the flags of any branch of the service. Also permitted is displaying the POW/MIA flag and the Gadsden flag, that yellow flag with the drawing of a coiled rattlesnake and the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me.”

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