Property Rights

Orlando to Fine Couple $500 a Day for Vegetable Garden?


Officials in Orlando, Florida ("the Greenest City in America") are scheduled to decide today whether to ding Jason and Jennifer Helvenston $500—a day—for growing a garden in their front yard. In September, a neighbor complained to the city, which ordered them to grow a regular lawn like everyone else.

From The New York Times:

Instead, Mr. Helvenston stood outside his polling site during the last election circulating a petition to change the current code, and then appeared on a local TV news station, telling the reporter and any city officials who happened to be watching, "You'll take my house before you take my vegetable garden."

…Orlando's code … specifies that planted shrubs "shall be a minimum of 24 inches in height" and "spaced not more than 36 inches apart," while berms "shall not exceed a slope of 3:1." The code goes on to list no less than 295 approved and prohibited species.

[Jeff] Rowes [of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm*] argues that such strict rules are fine when instituted by homeowners associations, where residents "go in with their eyes wide open," but codification of a homeowner's landscaping by local governments can be "oppressive."

City officials frequently cite public health and safety as the main reasons for zoning codes, but the underlying driver is often real estate.

The Helvenstons have launched a web site where they offer a free packet of seeds to anyone who will join them in planting a Patriot Garden to protest intrusive government regulation of front yards.

From an Institute for Justice press release:

When news of the story initially broke in early November, the city appeared inclined to help the Helvenstons navigate the city's outdated ordinances while still being able to keep their garden. A special "task force" was created to consider amending the law to allow for front yard gardens. But as deadline after deadline was postponed, it has become evident that such tactics have simply allowed the city to delay its enforcement. Despite assurances from the city that the Helvenstons would be able to keep their garden or that the code would be updated to allow for some sort of compromise, there has been no official statement from the city that either will occur.

 * I am a former employee of the Institute for Justice.

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  1. Beyond the property rights aspect, lawns are a stupid waste of resources. If you’re going to spend time growing plants, you might as well be able to eat or smoke them.

    1. Well, in forested areas, lawns provide a buffer against things like fire, moisture, insects, etc. But as far as I care, if it is mostly green and can be mowed, it’s a good enough lawn.

    2. I agree, grass is stupid and I don’t really get it.

      It takes excessive watering, fertilizing and mowing to even look nice and produces nothing but waste material you have to dispose of. Just a time and money sink.

      Your yard should work for you, not the other way around.

      1. I agree, grass is stupid and I don’t really get it.

        It takes excessive watering, fertilizing and mowing to even look nice and produces nothing but waste material you have to dispose of. Just a time and money sink.

        You mean slavish adherence to an agricultural concept developed for the aristocratic estates of coastal Western Europe makes no sense for the varied North American climate and soils? That’s crazy talk!

        1. I like lawns as space to do shit in. Maintenance is no big deal on a lawn big enough to have a party, play horseshoes or lawn darts, put-put, or shoot arrows (fuck the no projectile ordinance!) The theoretical size is a lawn big enough to comfortably play volleyball in. Now mulchy landscaping and ugly ass shrubs, fuck that.

          1. May I ask what part of the country (world) you live in?

            1. I moved in with your mom.

            2. I mean, a normal temperate climated area with appropriate precipitation. If I lived in the desert, I could have a sand lawn. I love cacti.

              1. I’d be interested to know what type of soil you have. For example, in my part of N.H., the soil is very rocky and acidic. The natural cover is clover, which grows quite well. Grass doesn’t do well here, yet most homeowners pull their hair out trying to grow grass lawns. They spend thousands of dollars at Agway or Chemlawn for, at best, mediocre results.

          2. I don’t have a problem with lawns, although I prefer heavily wooded lots, there are other things besides just grass you can plant as ground cover.

            Perenial creeping herbs for me. I like the shrubby look.

            1. I like the way zoysia grass looks when it’s bent over and shaggy and it doesn’t grow too long.

              But I won’t plant that because in this climate, it would be green about 2 weeks a year and look dead all the rest of the time.

            2. The shrubs I hate are the ones that people plant in big stupid clumps in front of their house. Like junipers and those prickly berry things.

              1. Well, that’s certainly not a ground cover. If you covered the whole lawn in bushes, it would be a nearly impassible thicket. If you leave giant gaps of woodchip mulch between sparse bushes, I imagine that would look very shitty. They have to be blended in.

                For a lawn area that you can walk around on, I like stuff like this:



                Other things: basil, oregano, blue star creeper, moss. Maybe buffalo grass.

        2. Lawns make sense in parts of the world where if you keep mowing an area of vegetation for long enough, it becomes a lawn without further input.

  2. In September, a neighbor complained to the city

    I would get out with an industrial sprayer and kill every blade of grass on that person’s lawn, then cut the words “fuck off, slaver” into his driveway with a water cutter. For $500 a day, I can afford a lawyer to get me off the felony.

    1. There is no pettiness like a neighbor’s pettiness.

      1. Inorite? I had a running dispute with the little old lady who lives down the street from me about whether or not my cat was tearing up her flowerbeds. After she called animal control on me, I was ready to shoot her dog and bury it in her flowerbeds in the way most destructive to her plants. But that’s probably not the appropriate response.

        1. Brett, here’s an old New England truism expressed by Robert Frost: good fences make good neighbors. Words to live by.

          1. You know what else works? Telling the old biddy that unless Animal Control picks up the cat for mounting her dog in her yard, I can use the system, too, and I’d be filing a harassment complaint with the sheriff’s office next time I had to deal with the animal people. Apparently, her flowers weren’t in that much danger. I don’t think I actually would have called the fuzz, but it got her attention.

            1. I think you should have just beaten the shit out of her.

              1. I’m a lazy fuck. If I ever want the shit beaten out of a lady thrice my age, I’ll send a couple of LEOs to do it.

                1. Then just go take a massive dump on her lawn. You’ll feel better.

          2. Epi, Aaron Sorkin has already reeducated everyone about that Robert Frost line, via The West Wing. It was IRONY.

            I think he’s actually right about that, or at least could be, but I’ve never heard anyone who quoted it do so ironically. So, provisionally, fuck either Frost or Sorkin.

            1. In case it turns out to be Frost.

            2. I’m having trouble following you, nicole. You used the words “Aaron Sorkin”, “The West Wing”, and “irony” in a sentence. DOES NOT COMPUTE.

              And Frost was a known asshole, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t being ironic.

              1. I thought that too until I re-read “Mending Wall” after the last time I saw that episode (and you can pry the Josh/Donna romance out of my cold, dead hands). I don’t think the narrator of the poem cares much for his neighbor’s reasoning (and it’s the neighbor, not the narrator, who has the line).

                Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
                What I was walling in or walling out,
                And to whom I was like to give offence.
                Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
                That wants it down.

                The “something” is nature or whatever.

                1. I saw an analysis once that pointed out that “Good fences make good neighbors” is the only line repeated in the poem, so that means Frost meant it.

                  I think the analysis was bullshit.

                  1. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” is also repeated, so it clearly was bullshit.

          3. Fences with automated flamethrowers?

            1. Good minefields and clear fields of fire make for good neighbors.

          4. Better yet is to live where you can’t see your neighbors.

            1. In a home for the blind?

              1. Do they tend to be far from other buildings?

        2. Only an idiot would let his cats outside.

          1. An idiot who doesn’t have a litterbox or a yard infested with bushy-tailed tree rats.

            1. Get a BB gun. Wal Mart has a pink one, you know.

        3. Fuck your cat. Keep that shit in the house.

          1. Its a crucial part of the ecosystem. Thousands of tons of cat shit end up in landfills every year — sucking vital nutrients out of the environment.

          2. No way. Cats need outside.

            1. Cats don’t “need” a god damned thing. They don’t know the difference between living inside or outside.

              1. Of course they do. I guess the one’s who have never been outside don’t. Indoor cats are fucked in the head because they have to smell their own piss all day.

                1. This is bullshit. Eighteen months ago I took in a 9-month old feral cat. It had fleas, ticks, ear-mites, and worms. Dropped $800 getting her up to speed (including spaying and a chip). She loves living in the house much better because she’s no longer plagued with parasites, has an endless supply of food and water and lots of soft surfaces to sleep on while she catches some sun. She also catches mice in my century-old house. Best cat I’ve ever had.

                  1. I’ve got a cat door. The little fucker can and does spend days either inside or outside to his heart’s content. We had to have some discussions about him bringing home pets. But now he pretty much understands that outside food stays outside.

  3. I can’t wait to hear the “health and safety” justification for prohibiting vegetables in a front yard.

    1. A kid with an allergy might pick and eat something while walking by on the sidewalk and go into anaphylaxis. The ready availabilty in the front yard creates an ‘attractive nuisance’.

      1. “A kid with an allergy might pick and eat something while walking by on the sidewalk…”
        That would be theft or robbery or some violation of the landowners property rights.
        Throw the little weasel in the slammer and let him think about it for a while!!!

        1. Well sure, but the ‘authorities’ use the idea of ‘attractive nuisance’ to justify all kinds of shit.

      2. Keep your fucking germ factories out of my yard.

      3. A lot more people are allergic to grass pollen than to any kind of vegetable.

    2. Some cop might stop there and piss all over them. Either that or some mail carrier will take a dump on them. The city council is just thinking of the safety of the homeowners.

  4. Crap, I have a small tomato plant in my front yard.

    1. Don’t worry, the drones are on their way.

  5. They should have bought the property instead of living on the city’s land.

    1. Free Waterfall Junior: “You can’t own property, man.”

      Farnsworth: “I can. But that’s because I’m not a penniless hippie.”

  6. The negative social implications of beets lounging in the front yard are so staggering that I volunteer Frum and Sabet to initiate an anti-veggie-on-front-lawn committee to publicly combat the degrading social consequences of such atrocious activities.

    1. Let’s call it the ‘Smart Agricultural Proscriptions’ (SAP).
      I’ll be filing for a non-profit corporation status this afternoon.

      I think we’ve re-engineered society too much for these filthy vegi lovers.

  7. OMFG that garden is a crime against humanity.

  8. Anyone who has read Runaway Garden knows the perils this unchecked anarchic behavior invites.

  9. Where are our resident “OMG PIG FARM!!111!” “PROPPITTY VALYOOOOOOS!!11” trolls?

  10. I agree with the law being overbearing, but to claim that a homeowners association with the same types of rules, isn’t the same as a local government that is elected at intervals is deluded to say the least. Oppression by any other name is still oppression.

    1. True, but at least the HOA is an explicit agreement. The city government is just based on some ephemeral ‘social contract’ that is conveniently unreadable.

    2. As long as the HOA can’t change the rules after you buy the property, it’s not really the same thing. I don’t know if that’s how it works or not as I would live in a cardboard box before living under a HOA.

      1. Why is it any different? Laws are public knowledge, just like HOA rules. And both can be changed after you buy the property.

  11. a neighbor complained to the city

    That line is what really stands out to me. The gov’t wouldn’t be what it is today without the tacit consent of at least a large number of people, would-be tyrants.

    Our gov’t is simply responding to demand. The monsters are due on Maple Street, and folks, it isn’t the FBI, or the CIA, or Homeland Security. It’s your neighbors and fellow citizens. They want it to be this way, they need it to be this way. And they’ll never agree to live and let live.

  12. What is that green thing with all the moss on top that he’s holding onto for support?

    1. nicole, I need a ruling. Is this why there are no libertarian women?

      1. That can be today’s reason, but only because I was too sick to subject myself to SF’s Jez link earlier. Also, sarcasmic deserves to win sometime.

        1. What did I win?

          1. The home version of “Hit & Run.” Johnny, tell sarcasmic about his prize.

            1. “Fuck you, cut spending!”

    2. For fuck’s sake…just come out of the closet already!

      First, you sneer at women who have secondary sex characteristics, like breasts, and now you’re showing disdain for women who can actually grow wavy, feminine full locks of hair?

      I understand your time on NBC’s Dateline was traumatic, but jeez….

      1. She looks like an ent.

        1. So? She has the Earth Mother thing going on.

          Why are you so scared of fertility, sarc?

          1. Why are you so easy to troll?

              1. I’m not following your links, dude.

                Seriously though, it’s not my fault you weren’t breast fed.

                I bet you whimper “Ma ma” in the sack.

                1. Actually, I was.

                  You can’t even get your Freudian stereotypes right!

                  C’mon son!

        2. Now, just for the record, if sarc really were my long-lost half-brother, he’d almost definitely have hair like that woman (if darker).

          1. What’s to say I don’t like her hair?

            I just thought it was funny that she’s posing in front of the garden in a green dress.

            1. I’m just yanking your chain.

  13. ORLANDOOOOOOOOO!!! Fuck Lake Eola.

  14. ORLANDOOOOOOOOO!!! Fuck Lake Eola.

    1. Damn, squirrels. That’s all right, it is worth repeating.

  15. and thank you John Ross for not embedding a google map.

  16. Dear Mr. Helvenston,

    Move to Milwaukee. Problem solved.


    1. Because its too cold for lawns or gardens?

      1. No, it’s very common in Milwaukee to have the vegetable garden in the front yard. I see that a bit here in Minneapolis too.

  17. Government stops a garden in your front yard and everyone freaks the fuck out.

    Government stops a house on the front lawn so there is no front yard and everyone could give a shit.

  18. Seems to me like a home owner should be able to do what he wants on his own property!@

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