On May 10, an Oak Park village employee placed on my outside door knob a green hang tag indicating that my lawn “was just a little too much,” adding that “Village Ordinance 20-7-14 did not permit grass to exceed 8 inches in height” and that I needed “to attend to my lawn.” Furthermore, “Failure to do so could lead to a revisit of my property and a Notice of Violation.”

I had heard someone come up my front steps without ringing the bell; I wondered who it could be as the letter carrier had already “made his appointed rounds.” When I found the tag, I was dumbfounded and royally enraged! How dare the village salary someone to come to my home to tell me my grass was too high! I soon learned that I was not the only person on the block who had received such a notice.

These dire warnings appeared after information about “No Mow May” had been published in the online village newsletter of May 3 (vopnews@oak-park.us).

What is the problem with tall grass? | Provided

Merely five days had elapsed between these two events. I had read about No Mow May as well as other online materials about bees and other insects needing these dandelions, wild violets, clover, etc. They are important for nectar, shelter, and cross pollination of plants during a time when other flowers have not yet begun to bloom. Bees, in particular, need our help as they are being decimated throughout the Earth by pesticides at both the larval and adult stages. So, what was the Village thinking?

The newsletter stated that the village was supporting two areas in Oak Park without mowing: the greensward immediately south of village hall and an area on Jackson Boulevard. Villagers were asked to observe activity in these two places and provide comments. We were also expressly asked not to try this plan in our own yards, that if propitious, during the year 2024, the village might declare No Mow May as a sustainable activity for both village operations as well as residents.

Others on my block who received these door tags were likewise non-amused; especially those of us who garden sustainably, do not use pesticides, grow and save seed of heirloom varieties, and have always practiced “no mowing” at certain junctures of the growing season. None of us received notices before this year.

What was the deal? 

Personally, I have thought of several responses: I could have a neighbor photograph me measuring the height of the dandelions on my parkway to show that many do not exceed the required 8 inches; I could write this letter and distribute it widely at village hall as well as in the local press. I could make an appointment with someone in the Neighborhood Services Department at village hall to express my outrage at this turn of events. I could also just wait until I receive the threatened “Notice of Violation” to learn what would happen afterward. Finally, I can attend the next open village board meeting, get on the agenda, and take issue with this nasty practice by the village.

It is true, the emailed village notice stated that, this year only, the village would be trying No Mow May in a couple of sectors in order to solicit public comment. And they discouraged village residents from participating in No Mow May. However, since some of us already practice other sustainable garden activities, we feel we are within our rights to manage our lawns, within bounds.

Not cutting the grass for one month hardly seems worthy of paying a village employee to tag “non-compliant” homes and to follow up with violation notices as necessary.

If I am to receive a Notice of Violation, bring it on! And how will I be punished? The south side of Oak Park already receives somewhat poorer services. (Note: the big announcement that Oak Park has been designated as a “Tree City USA” when the area south of the IKE has less tree cover than the remainder of Oak Park — where are our trees. This is just one example and we can name more!

Meanwhile I will be out measuring my dandelions and probably not cutting off the ones that are greater than 8 inches high. This letter will be sent anywhere else we think will do some good and serve notice to Oak Park residents that we will not be subverted.

Carrol Smith, PhD, RN, is a proud south-side Oak Park resident.

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