Curb appeal: homeowner wins argument over native prairie plants


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A Windsor Park resident has been told she doesn't have to replace the native prairie plants in her yard with turf -- as long as she keeps the growth next to the curb trimmed.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/11/2018 (1548 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Windsor Park resident has been told she doesn’t have to replace the native prairie plants in her yard with turf — as long as she keeps the growth next to the curb trimmed.

“I could live with that,” Janice Biebrich told the three committee members (including Winnipeg chief administrative officer Doug McNeil) after making an emotional appeal at city hall Thursday.

The appeal granted by the city says she’s required to maintain vegetation within one metre of curbs on her corner lot to no more than one metre in height and to make sure that at no time vegetation spills out over the curb. Biebrich must also apply for a permit that allows the naturescape to extend to the curb.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Janice Biebrich poses in her naturalized Windsor Park area home Monday.

City officials at the appeal committee hearing said the rule that requires turf for one metre to the curb is for safety and accessibility.

“The issue here is really about boulevard maintenance,” said bylaw enforcement manager Winston Yee. “We’re looking at a public right of way.”

Officers are checking out sightlines and visibility, and making sure people parked at the curb don’t have vegetation in their way, he said.

Biebrich’s property is on a corner lot, in an area with no sidewalks and on the side of the street where there is no parking allowed.

In August, she received an order from the city saying she was in violation of section 89 (3) of the neighbourhood livability bylaw that requires homeowners to keep at least a one-metre strip of grass adjacent to the curb.

The order came as a surprise to Biebrich because the native landscape — certified as a naturescape by FortWhyte Alive nature centre — was planted eight years ago, and was checked out by bylaw enforcement officers twice several years ago, she said.

“This yard has been a labour of love,” said the retired teacher-librarian, adding it is a way station for monarch butterflies, drought resistant and a sanctuary for endangered tallgrass prairie. “Our garden supports so much life… It’s a place for our family, our children and grandchildren to commune with nature.”

She said neighbours have been invited to garden parties and have shared seeds from their native prairie plants with people all over Winnipeg.

She and her estranged husband, Rod Biebrich, replaced the grass in their Lochinvar Avenue yard with more than 100 different local native plants eight years ago.

Testifying at the hearing in support of his former spouse, Rod Biebrich told the committee they decided to replace their lawn with native prairie habitat when they replaced the furnace with an energy-saving geothermal heating and cooling system, which required them to dig up the yard.

“It took us three years to do everything,” he said, crediting Janice Biebrich with doing extensive research and consultation to make sure it was certified as a prairie habitat. “It’s a home for butterflies, bunnies and bees.”

St. Boniface ward city Coun. Matt Allard’s office sent an email to the committee, expressing his view it should approve Biebrich’s appeal. The message pointed to the precedent for permitting the naturalized garden in recent years, the restoration of native species to the area, the positive impacts for the climate and air quality from more vegetation, and “the reasonably-applied right of a homeowner to make decisions about the use of their property.”

“I live my life with a concern for the environment,” said Biebrich, who drives a hybrid vehicle and is a vegetarian. “We depend on biodiversity for our lives.”

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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