Village of New Paltz trustees won’t be eliminating the local law limiting lawns to three inches. Those who spoke in favor of mowing down the existing law at last week’s meeting, touched on many perceived benefits, and also acknowledged the concerns raised that this would create havens for ticks.
Janelle Peotter, coordinator of New Paltz Climate Smart, was well prepared to speak in support of this initiative, as that group recently held an event to promote the idea of shrinking lawns. She touched on the fertilizer and water needed to keep a lawn’s unnatural aesthetic in place and the sheer amount of gasoline used to keep grass to the height required under village law. A mowed lawn results in eight times as much carbon spewed into the atmosphere than the plants themselves can sequester. As for ticks, Peotter said that another way to reduce tick population is by increasing the biodiversity, a matter which “warrants further study” according to a 2013 paper published in the journal Parasites & Vectors. She additionally characterized Lyme disease as the “first epidemic of climate change,” suggesting that efforts to stem those changes would reduce the danger of ticks to humans overall. Increasing the height would allow others to plant “no-mow” grass which reaches a height of six to eight inches.
Liz Elkin noted that this would not forbid mowing, and that property owners who desire a short lawn would retain that right. She spoke about clover, a food source for many pollinators, being able to successfully flower in a longer lawn. As for ticks, Elkin sees traditional lawns as being more a haven for the parasites because there’s nothing living there that would eat the bloodsucking arachnids.
One idea mentioned was that rolling back this law would make it possible to replace portions of lawn with vegetable gardens or flowering meadows, but Mayor Tim Rogers is of the opinion that this is true even now.
Landlord Ed Burke raised worries that this change would be endorsed by his absentee colleagues, resulting in a “lot of unsightly yards.” In back yards he thinks this is acceptable, but he asked, “Is there a big outcry?” Those who do not wish to use gasoline mowers could purchase reel mowers, he pointed out. It does not appear that these are used in any local landscaping company, perhaps suggesting an untapped demand for such a service.
Rogers characterized lawns as “not the wisest land use,” but acknowledged that it appears some village residents were confused, believing that this move would prevent them from mowing.
Deputy mayor KT Tobin is supportive of taking a hard look at the problem, but wants to understand what needs to be solved before taking any action, saying that it’s “not as easy as changing lawn height.” If the village law was abolished, the state maximum of ten inches would then be in force.
Trustee Michele Zipp noted that context matters: the grass near Deyo Hall on Huguenot Street is five inches tall and seems appropriate, but that’s likely too much for what’s in Hasbrouck Park. She mentioned a property where the yard is covered with flowering plants, all far taller than three inches.
The mayor called the current law a “blunt instrument,” but he and others at the table didn’t believe its removal would necessarily be a good thing, despite the law’s inconsistent application. He is now leaning toward “smaller lawns, not taller lawns,” a solution which this repeal alone would not advance.