Turf War: In Junius Heights, a Man With a Fake Lawn Creates Real Problem at City Hall

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Just returned from Dallas City Hall, where, in just a few, the Landmark Commission will meet to formally discuss all the items you'll find listed here. Sadly, we won't get to see the Statler shroud: Mark Doty, the city's historic district planner, told the commissioners that AIA Dallas is kicking back the winning design to its architect for some final tweaks before its formal unveiling August 17. Damndamndamn. But there will be an interesting discussion concerning the ordinance dealing with demolishing structures in historic districts; back to that in an item to follow shortly.

But for those playing along at home, pull up the agenda and scroll down to Discussion Item No. 2 -- the one labeled, simply, "Install artificial lawn." For a good 30 minutes during their briefing this morning, the commissioners discussed whether Jose Escobedo, who lives in Junius Heights, had violated his historic district's ordinance by installing Astroturf. Said several commissioners afterward, that was a first.

As you can see from the StreetView scene above, Escobedo isn't interested in keeping up an actual lawn, so he installed a fake one -- which, from the photos displayed at City Hall today, looks much better than the brown patch he's replaced. And, from all accounts, you'd never know unless you walked on the lawn that it was faux. But, Escobedo was ratted out by someone who took offense at the lawn and called 311. So, for 30 minutes and for the first time in the commission's history, the commissioners asked city staff, in short: Um, what's the problem?

Said city planner Tracey Cox, "Artificial grass would not have been considered of the era," meaning it just ain't historic enough for a historic district, sorry. Assistant City Attorney Janet Spugnardi, who handled code compliance, said there are indeed regulations in the Dallas City Code dealing with the kinds of grass you can plant -- but she didn't say anything about what kind of fake grass you can lay across the lawn.

And Cox acknowledged: If Escobedo is forced by Landmark Commission to yank up the turf, well, he's already said he won't plant the real stuff. Doesn't wanna deal with it. And, besides, he has insisted to city staff, this fake stuff's more "environmentally friendly." Escobedo was scheduled to show for the briefing to further explain this rationale, but he didn't show; presumably he'll attend the meeting, to which one of our fine interns has been dispatched for a late-afternoon follow-up.

As you can see from the agenda, staff and the commission's task force recommend denying Escobedo the proper permits to keep his turf.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky