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Oak Park Drops Charges on Front Yard Garden

Berkley resident who helped build garden says remaining dog violations may mean dispute will drag on.

The national controversy that sprouted in Oak Park after resident Julie Bass had raised vegetable beds installed on her front lawn has drawn a close – for now.

Charges against Bass over her garden have been dismissed, City Prosecutor Eugene Lumberg told WJBK-TV late Thursday, but other charges remain for failing to license her two dogs.

Bass' lawyer, Solomon Radner, said the charges were dropped without his client being notified, but he did discover the city is resurrecting charges against Bass for not having licenses for her two dogs, an issue Bass said has already been taken care of, The Detroit News reported Friday.

Bass and her supporters are worried that the charges on dog violations will mean the case will continue when attention dies down.

Berkley resident Ryan Turpin, who built the Basses' raised beds, worries for the family. “It's too bad this family is getting this heat when they didn't do anything wrong,” he said.

Officials cited Bass for breaking a city ordinance, which states that “all unpaved portions of the site shall be planted with grass or ground cover or shrubbery or other suitable live plant material.”

Turpin said he has been there since the beginning. He said after watching the movie Food, Inc. Bass was inspired to build a garden to feed her family, which includes six children. She wanted to encourage healthy food and teach her kids how to grow their own vegetables.

“She's teaching her kids a valuable life lesson,” Turpin said.

Turpin said Bass wanted him to build the five beds in the front yard, which had the right amount of light and space, as well as a barrier from her digging dogs.

The dispute began after city officials cited Bass for the garden. Believing they had not violated the code, Turpin said Bass worked to keep the vegetables in the front. The citation included violations for owning two unlicensed dogs. Bass said in a July 15 post at www.oakparkhatesveggies.com that she took the vaccine information to court in June.

“When we got the citation for the dog licenses we cleared it up right away,” she said in the post. “We went in that Friday only to find that our government is closed on Friday due to budget cuts. We went back as soon as we were able the following week and took care of it. We paid the license fees. We paid late fees. We got proof from them that the dogs were current and paid up, and we took this proof to court and we showed it to the prosecutor.”

Her pretrial date for the garden issue had been set for July 26.

Turpin said that Bass and her family are overwhelmelmed by all the media attention.

“While I was talking to her today she had three media calls," Turpin said. "Colbert is even looking at doing a story on the situation.

“Julie and her family are amazing people. Never in a million years would we have thought this would happen.”

The situation has drawn nearly 30,000 supporters to a Facebook page, Oak Park Hates Veggies.

Could this happen in Berkley or Huntington Woods?

"I'm sure all the city managers around here are thinking 'Does our code address this?' " Berkley City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa said.

She said Berkley permits front yard veggie gardens as long as they are free of weeds, grass and other vegetation; do not overhang public property; and do not contain plants that are harmful to residents' health, such as poison ivy or ragweed.

Such beds are covered under Article III, Secs. 130-76 and 130-77 (see attached PDF), of city code established in 1981, Bais-DiSessa said.

"It's been in our ordinances for a long time," she said.

While front yard vegetable beds are permitted in Berkley, Bais-DiSessa said few residents have opted to plant them over the years. Those that have been planted have been small, she said.

Front yard vegetable gardens never have been much of issue in Huntington Woods either, City Manager Alex Allie said.

"There is no specific prohibition on growing vegetables in the front yard," he said.

However, Allie said, there are guidelines similar to Berkley's for homeowners who would like to do so, including:

  • At least 50 percent of the front yard must be grass.
  • No planting can be so dense that it harbors rodents.
  • Noxious weeds such as poison ivy are not permitted.
  • A vegetable garden must be well-maintained and cannot create a vision obstruction.

"Ironically, the Planning Commission is considering a series of ordinances," Allie said, and the front yard vegetable bed issue "is on their radar."

"So many people are going to ultra-landscaping or natural yards (using native plants instead of grass)," he said. "I don't know if it's the way of the future but it absorbs water and rain better. Some of them are very beautiful."

But, he added: "I don't know how I'd feel if I lived next door to one."

Allie said that, to his knowledge, a front yard veggie garden has never been planted in Huntington Woods.

Turpin said he thinks it's time for the city to update its code.

"Codes are meant to be interpreted and (Oak Park's) not changing with the times," Turpin said. "What makes a zucchini plant less suitable than an annual? They're both going to bloom and die. If anything, zucchini is more suitable because at least it produces something."

Click here to read an essay in support of Oak Park's position or click here to read Bass' blog oakparkhatesveggies.com. Stay tuned to Berkley Patch for continuing coverage. The Oak Park City Council is scheduled to meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

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