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A bullied homeowner in a homeowners association won the right to have natural landscaping. The governor is expected to sign a bill that affects every gardener in Maryland.

Jean is my go-to source for information on saving the planet by protecting insects, planting native species, and getting rid of yard chemicals.

Yesterday she sent me a cool article about a tyrannical homeowners association that bit off more than it could chew when it told one couple what to plant.

Nancy Lawson wrote at Human Gardener, “If you live in a community governed by a homeowners association [HOA] in Maryland, your HOA will soon no longer be allowed to require you to grow turfgrass. It can no longer prohibit you from planting native plants and creating wildlife habitat. The Maryland General Assembly has spoken, quietly and firmly, joining a growing number of states last week by passing House Bill 322, the low-impact landscaping legislation that specifically codifies your right to be wildlife-friendly, plant-friendly, and environmentally conscious.

“You can thank my sister, Janet Crouch, for that. … Three and a half years ago, Janet and her husband Jeff began receiving demands from the Beech Creek Homeowners Association in Howard County that they convert their beautiful 15-year-old pollinator gardens to turfgrass. In a series of bullying and nonsensical letters, the HOA’s contracted law firm, Nagle & Zaller, wrote that a garden ‘without the use of pesticides in which they have maintained “native plants” to provide food for birds, bees, and other insects and animals’ is ‘completely contrary to the overall design scheme for the Association, which is a planned development.’ … Attorney Sean Suhar used quotes around words and concepts he apparently viewed as suspicious, such as ‘garden,’ and wrote disparagingly of the Crouches’ ‘environmentally sensitive agenda.’

The law firm’s letters displayed a seemingly boundless ignorance by trying to demonize my sister and her husband for adding ‘plantings which grow back every year.’

“Throughout this process, there was virtually no opposition from politicians, and even the national association representing HOAs supported the legislation. When we testified for the bill the first time at last year’s hearing, the curmudgeonly delegate who’d voted against other environmental proposals that day surprised us all by asking, ‘Who wouldn’t support pollinator gardens?’

“His question was more than rhetorical for my sister. Janet’s HOA board was so unsupportive of pollinator gardens that it paid the law firm of Nagle & Zaller about $100,000 of the community’s money — made up entirely of homeowners’ dues — to try to get rid of the one in my sister’s  yard. …

“The entire case against the Crouches was built on the complaints of one neighbor, who grows Japanese barberries in front of his house and fills his lawn with blue chemicals that I have filmed running down toward the wooded and stream-filled park during rainstorms. He also hires pesticide sprayers routinely and accused the Crouches’ of attracting mosquitoes, even though his eroded lawn pools with standing water and provides perfect mosquito habitat. One of the most ludicrous complaints of all from this man — whose property and entire neighborhood abuts forest where owls, foxes, squirrels, chipmunks and many other animals live — was repeated in illogical screeds from the lawyers proclaiming that ‘numerous squirrels are being attracted to the subject property. The neighbor fear [sic] this will affect their property.’

“Claims of squirrel takeovers may sound laughable, but since 2017, it has been no laughing matter for Janet, who poured her heart into saving the garden that has offered so much solace to her family and so much habitat to the community’s birds and other wildlife. …

“In preparation for a ‘hearing’ process in 2018, we prepared many documents and photos, only to arrive and discover it was all a sham. Suhar, the HOA lawyer, immediately told my sister to ‘shut up’ when she tried to speak and yelled at me to ‘be quiet.’ …

“Unfortunately there was no law against such abusive behaviors, nothing to prohibit HOAs from acting in a kind of Wild West, arbitrary fashion toward gardens and nature and the people who love them. Until now. …

“We will be eternally grateful to wildlife biologist John Hadidian, native nursery expert Rob Jenkins, and realtor Kristi Neidhardt for their wisdom, insight and bravery in signing on to help with the case. Most of all, Jeff Kahntroff and Matt Skipper of Skipper Law took on what most lawyers consider to be an unwinnable issue. …

“It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the forces against nature, but my sister has taught me that you can change those tides by becoming a force of nature. ‘I’m a shy person,’ she told me last week, ‘and I don’t usually put myself out there like this.’ But she’s never countenanced bullies and has defended me from them since I was a little girl. This time, she was defending the plants and animals and her family, who felt attacked in their own home of 20 years. … Thanks in large part to the bravery and fortitude of Janet Crouch, many more people in my home state will now be allowed to nurture the bees, butterflies and other wildlife in their own backyards.

“The bill is waiting for the governor’s signature and is set to become law in October.”

More here. Hat tip: Jean at Meadowmaking.

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