Think Twice Before Buying in an Historical District Until the Landmark Commission Hugs a Cactus

Grass needing waterWe have some land in the Hill Country where it is drier than a bone. Our creeks and tanks are low, and folks down there conserve water like crazy. The only time the land gets watered is when the Longhorns take a pee. We have a home in San Antonio, another water-parched community, where residents have reduced their water consumption to 130 gallons a day per person. Why? Severe watering restrictions with fines. Here in Dallas, experts say that North Texas in the next 50 years will need an estimated $21 billion of new reservoirs and infrastructure to sustain the region’s water use as the climate gets hotter and the population grows. Oh yes, it is growing. In Dallas we use about 200 gallons a day of water per person, which sounds hoggish, but according to the Dallas Morning News, the Park Cities is the worst offender sucking up 364 gallons a day per person, this figured back in 2011. What frustrates me is that the Park Cities won’t let residents use Conservation Grass in their front yards, only the back.

Of course, when Preston Hollow has a resident building a waterpark in his backyard that the city approved, I guess I have to shut up.

But you would think that when one citizen is trying to do his share and plant a yard of water-stingy plants and cacti, people might give him a hand, especially if he holds a horticultural degree. water wells

Wrong. Burton Knight ripped out the lawn at his home in the Junius Heights Historic District, in East Dallas, an area loaded with those eagerly-sought early 20th-century Craftsman and prairie-style houses. But watch those historical districts. Knight landscaped his home with rocks, cactus and other plants that don’t need major amounts of water. Rocks, in fact, need none.

But the city’s Landmark Commission, which oversees development in designated historic districts, told him this month that cactuses aren’t historically appropriate. What was appropriate: nice, green sod, the city said. That old familiar water-sucking green.

“How can you say that cactus is not historic?” asked Knight, who has a horticulture degree from Texas A&M University. “Guess what crop has the greatest consumption of time, energy, water and chemicals? Turf grass.”

Unless you’ve been asleep the last few years, more of us are trying to watch the water consumption, even me. 2011 was a record drought; everything in our yard died. Even Tom Hicks uses less water and potable water on his 25 acre estate, now on the quiet market for $135 million.

“We fully understand the severity of the drought situation in North Texas and the need to address that situation through water conservation,” he said in the statement. “We completely comply with city’s Stage 1 water restrictions now in effect. Historically, we have always paid a higher rate based on consumption and have implemented steps to conserve water and reduce our use of city water.”

Many people in the Strait Lane/Lennox Lane estate area post signs telling the world they are not water hogs (see above). Many have dug their own wells (which still depletes the water table) and use potable water for irrigation.

Still, a report by the Austin-based advocate group Environment Texas called drought-tolerant landscaping one of the best and cheapest options for saving water. By just eliminating traditional green Bermuda lawns and going instead for native, drought-adapted species, Texas could save 14 billion gallons a year. That’s enough to meet the demands of 240,000 Texans. One way would be to forbid homeowners associations from banning xeriscape or drought-tolerant landscaping, or artificial turf, my newest love affair, no matter how much they love green lawns. Three bills down in Austin right now would bar homeowners associations from imposing blanket bans on xeriscaping or drought-tolerant landscaping. Now what about Conservation grass?

Guess what: the Senate voted on Monday 30-0 in favor of one of the three, Sen. Kirk Watson’s bill. It now goes to the House, where two similar bills are pending. All of the bills posted would regulate home owners associations so they could no longer pester people like Knight, and let him keep his drought-proof yard intact.

To be clear, there is no blanket ban on xeriscaping in Dallas. Knight’s case got attention because it’s in a historic district. So like I said, think twice before you buy…


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