In Junius Heights, Burton Knight Is Still Fighting to Keep His Water-Friendly Yard

Burton Knight didn't set out trying to pick a fight with the city of Dallas. He just wanted a xeriscaped lawn, so he pulled up the green turf in front of his Abrams Road home and put in drought-tolerant cactus, mesquite, yucca, agave and dotted the landscape with large, roughly hewed boulders. Knight, who has a horticulture degree from Texas A&M, was pleased. So, he says, were his neighbors.

"We can't stand out in the front yard without somebody walking up to visit the yard," he says. "Everyone loves it. People will honk, people will applaud me from across the street. ... I have no lack of people gushing about it."

But then the city's Landmark Commission ruled that Knight's lawn was not historically appropriate for the century-old Junius Heights neighborhood, which is one of the city's 20 historic districts. Houses back then would have had grass, city staffers argued, not rocks and cacti.

So the city of Dallas, under permanent watering restrictions and in the midst of a historic water crisis, says plants that have populated the Dallas County for centuries aren't sufficiently historic. The Dallas Morning News suggested as much when they reported on the battle in March, noting that Knight does not appear to be in violation of the historic district rules, which say only that yards must be "appropriate, enhance the structure and surroundings, and not obscure views of protected facades."

The ruling meant that Knight would have to plant grass, but he hasn't given up without a fight. He's proposed a pair of compromises, both of which will be considered by the Landmark Commission on Monday, that would allow him to keep his lawn mostly intact.

The first, which has the endorsement of city staff, calls for the addition of buffalo grass and the removal of the cacti and boulders. The second, which Knight would prefer, would just add the buffalo grass.

"I really want to keep the cactus and the boulders," he says. "So I don't know. I'm probably going to make a case to see if they'll go with the Plan B."

Failing that, he might appeal his case to the City Plan Commission in hopes of getting a favorable hearing. But he's not sure. He's been battling the city for months now, and it's exhausting. "It's a constant stressor," he says. "It saps your creativity."

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