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House with meadow

Rescinding of the Chelsea Municipality Grass Height By-law

Photo © Geof Burbidge

Violation of Grass Height by-law

After a number of complaints by neighbours and visits to her property by municipal inspectors, on July 17th Chelsea resident Jill Rick was issued a $60 (plus $25 administrative fee) fine for violating the municipal grass height by-law. The by-law states "Properties must be kept free of grass longer than 30cm measured from the soil except for agricultural land." At the August 7th council meeting Ms. Rick asked council to amend the nuisance by-law (which includes grass height) and stated that she was not prepared to pay the fine but would rather defend her right to grow a natural meadow. Together with Jim Douglas Chelsea resident, ACRE director and landscape designer, Ms Rick came up with a design for the property that integrated lawn and meadow.

Ms. Rick Goes to Court and Loses

Ms. Rick defended her decision at the MRC court on January 25th. Her argument was that the by-law was vague and didn't clearly define what constitutes a lawn and as far as she was concerned her grass was properly kept within the grass height by-law. She lost, but was determined to continue to fight for her right to maintain her property the way she wanted to, and to create awareness about the value of naturalized meadows.

Appeal Filed with Québec Superior Court

"I love a Meadow" Campaign: facts and myths
On February 26th Ms. Rick filed an appeal with the Québec Superior Court. With the support of local environmental groups such as ACRE, Ms. Rick set about raising awareness about the value of meadows by mounting a postcard campaign in support of rescinding the by-law. Ms. Rick also created a website for people to follow the process of defending her rights. She also set up a donation fund "Fonds Nature Chelsea Fund" to help pay for the mounting legal fees. May 1st was the pre-trial court hearing date and the presiding judge ruled that Ms. Ricks' case was indeed strong enough to continue to the appeal stage and a court date was set for September 19th 2001.

By-Law Rescinded

Meanwhile a committee was formed (comprised of Chelsea residents and council members) to re-examine the by-law and to present some alternatives; however, they failed to reach consensus. In June 2001 the Chelsea Municipal Council voted to rescind the grass height by-law. September 19th - the Québec Superior Court date All arguments were carefully listened to by the judge. With legal bills growing to $8,000, Ms. Rick remained steadfast in her belief that Chelsea had no right to fine her for growing her meadow beyond a set limit of 30cms.

Meadow Ruling Mowed Down

On October 17th the Quebec Superior Court overturned the conviction of Jill Rick charged under Chelsea's nuisance by-law for growing her lawn too long. Jill Rick, "The Court decision is a victory for all Canadian gardeners who don't wish to conform to the norm of short suburban lawns". She argued that the Charter of Rights guaranteed her freedom to grow a meadow any height she wanted.

  • Myth: Meadows are fire hazards.
    Fact: A meadow with its natural mix of species, will rarely ever burn, and if it does, burn intensities are not a risk to houses.

  • Myth: Meadows lower property values.
    Fact: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. With the appreciation of the value and importance of natural landscaping, meadows are increasingly seen as assets by home buyers.

  • Myth: Meadows attract rats.
    Fact: Rats do not live in natural landscapes, but in man-made structures and they eat garbage.

  • Myth: Meadows increase pollen and hayfever.
    Fact: Hayfever is caused by fine windborne pollen from such species as ragweed, which thrive in poor, disturbed soil, not healthy meadows. The heavy pollen grains from showy species like goldenrod are not a hayfever hazard.