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City destroys homeowner's property, threatens $7,500 fine even though no laws were broken: 'Draconian and completely unreasonable'

The Barnes family was trying to maintain a space for pollinators, like bees and butterflies.

The Barnes family was trying to maintain a space for pollinators, like bees and butterflies.

Photo Credit: iStock

Armed with weed whackers, a city crew in Burlington, Ontario, arrived unannounced at the Barnes family home earlier this summer to see justice done, the Toronto Star reports. This happened after the city threatened the Barnes family with daily fines of $10,000 Canadian (about $7,500 USD) for "bylaw violations." The city "razed" the Barnes' yard instead.

The alleged infeactions? Growing a "butterfly paradise" of native plants without keeping vegetation under 20 centimeters (roughly 8 inches) tall, among other infractions that the family disputes. 

The incident drew online ire in the r/NoLawns community (currently 179,000 members) after a user shared the Star article.

The article points out that homeowner Karen Barnes has a master's degree in ecology and brought in a natural-garden consultant plus a respected environmental lawyer to address the city's initial accusations and show that the yard met an exception for purposeful, "naturalized" areas. City officials contend that the yard didn't qualify.

The consultant, who assessed the yard and found it "deliberately planted," told the Star that the city's supervisor of bylaws instead called it "unkempt" and "referred repeatedly to the 'weeds' present" but couldn't say which plants were weeds, noting he was "not a weed expert."

The Barnes family, who will challenge the city's actions in court, was trying to maintain a space for pollinators, like bees and butterflies, with plants such as "goldenrod, coneflower, wood poppy, purple asters, and milkweed."

Creating a pollinator-friendly yard is said to enhance the size, number, and flavor of fruits and vegetables growing nearby. Native plant yards can save money, time, and water while using fewer chemicals and avoiding the climate-changing emissions of gas-powered lawn equipment.

Comments on the Reddit post critiqued the city's officious, harsh responses, including the threats of fines sent to the Barnes' mortgage company.

"[T]hese fines are draconian and completely unreasonable given that no 'harm' is being done to the neighborhood or city in any way," one Redditor wrote. This user felt the yard was legal, quoting the article about allowances for "vegetation deliberately planted or cultivated with one or more species of wildflowers, shrubs, annuals, perennials, ornamental grasses, or combination of them, that is monitored and maintained."

Other users sympathized with the Barnes family. One wrote: "[T]hey did not just have an area left to go feral, they were intentionally planting and maintaining a set of native plants, which by Burlington's own [bylaws] should be exempt."

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