City staff received 264 responses to the survey regarding an update to the weed ordinance. More than 30 people attended a public meeting on January 25 to discuss the subject. Based on the public feedback, staff has written a proposed draft ordinance and are now seeking public feedback through February 16. Staff will then take all public comment received and send a draft ordinance to City Council for their consideration.
On November 20, 2017, the City Council heard a pre-council work session presentation and also a report addressing the idea of updating the City’s weed ordinance to allow for native plantings. Staff was directed by Council to receive additional public input on this issue and return in spring 2018 with a proposed update to the ordinance.
Chapter 11: Health and Sanitation of the City Code addresses weeds as any vegetation other than “recognized trees, decorative shrubs and ornamental grasses” that exceed twelve inches in height. An update to this ordinance may be needed as a greater number of property owners realize the benefits of using native Missouri plants in their residential landscapes. As defined by our current ordinance native Missouri forbs, grasses, and sedges are considered to be “weeds”.
Native plants have become more popular among residential landscapers due to the environmental benefits that they provide. Native plants are indigenous to a local area and have adapted to the environment as well as co-evolved with the local native wildlife. To survive extreme climate conditions such as drought, native plants grow extensive root systems that in some species may reach up to twenty feet in length. These extensive root systems allow native plants to access more water and nutrients than some non-native plants that are commonly used in residential landscapes. Consequently, native plants do not require frequent watering or fertilizer unlike non-native landscape plants which do require more care, saving the property owner money and time. Additionally, native plants do not need to be treated with pesticides because they have adapted to insect damage by developing various defense mechanisms against insect herbivores. Overall, native plants are low maintenance, reduce the amount of chemicals used in residential areas, and support essential ecosystems and their functions which provide goods and services (i.e. clean air and water, pollination, healthy soil, flood mitigation, etc.) that we use every day.
Staff in Community Development-Neighborhood Services enforce the section of Chapter 11 that relates to weeds. In fiscal year 2017, ONS staff handled 1,520 weed cases; nearly 500 of which were from citizen complaints. Of these cases, staff estimate that fewer than 2% of these cases relate to properties with native plantings. ONS abates 40-50 properties annually for weed violations with the cost charged back to the property owner. In cases where native plants are part of the landscape, staff talk with property owners about their maintenance practices to obtain voluntary compliance.
The City of Columbia actively manages public lands using native vegetation and promotes the use of natives for their environmental benefits to citizens. Native vegetation is part of Columbia’s natural history and will help restore the diversity of habitats that were once present in Columbia prior to its development. Broadening the scope of the weed ordinance to allow the use of native vegetation will expand Columbia’s adaptive ability to climate change. Scientific research shows that increasing biodiversity (the variety of life) of an area will also increase its ability to sequester carbon, thus improving the environment and helping secure Columbia’s future.
Proposed changes to the ordinance
Staff recommend continuing the requirement that all turf grasses be mowed to 12 inches or less and also require that nuisance plants (including poison ivy, poison oak and ragweed) and noxious weeds be removed. Any vegetation causing a safety hazard for drivers, bicyclists or pedestrians would be in violation.
Staff recommends that a revised ordinance include the following changes:
- Defining terms related to this topic including landscaped, ornamental plan, and turf grass and reference invasive plants and native plants as identified by the Missouri Department of Conservation and noxious weeds as listed by the US Department of Agriculture.
- Allowing managed landscapes of native or ornamental plants and vegetable gardens exceeding 12″ provided they are free of nuisance plants, noxious weeds, turf weeds and turf grasses.
- Allowing for native or ornamental landscapes provided that a buffer or border at the property line.
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Council work session presentation – November 20, 2017