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of the story initially broke in early November, the city appeared inclined to help the Helvenstons navigate the city's outdated ordinances while still being able to keep their garden.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.