In Junius Heights, Burton Knight Is Still Fighting to Keep His Water-Friendly Yard

BurtonKnightLawn.jpg
City of Dallas
Burton Knight didn't set out trying to pick a fight with the city of Dallas. He just wanted a xeriscaped lawn, so he pulled up the green turf in front of his Abrams Road home and put in drought-tolerant cactus, mesquite, yucca, agave and dotted the landscape with large, roughly hewed boulders. Knight, who has a horticulture degree from Texas A&M, was pleased. So, he says, were his neighbors.

"We can't stand out in the front yard without somebody walking up to visit the yard," he says. "Everyone loves it. People will honk, people will applaud me from across the street. ... I have no lack of people gushing about it."

But then the city's Landmark Commission ruled that Knight's lawn was not historically appropriate for the century-old Junius Heights neighborhood, which is one of the city's 20 historic districts. Houses back then would have had grass, city staffers argued, not rocks and cacti.

So the city of Dallas, under permanent watering restrictions and in the midst of a historic water crisis, says plants that have populated the Dallas County for centuries aren't sufficiently historic. The Dallas Morning News suggested as much when they reported on the battle in March, noting that Knight does not appear to be in violation of the historic district rules, which say only that yards must be "appropriate, enhance the structure and surroundings, and not obscure views of protected facades."

The ruling meant that Knight would have to plant grass, but he hasn't given up without a fight. He's proposed a pair of compromises, both of which will be considered by the Landmark Commission on Monday, that would allow him to keep his lawn mostly intact.

The first, which has the endorsement of city staff, calls for the addition of buffalo grass and the removal of the cacti and boulders. The second, which Knight would prefer, would just add the buffalo grass.

"I really want to keep the cactus and the boulders," he says. "So I don't know. I'm probably going to make a case to see if they'll go with the Plan B."

Failing that, he might appeal his case to the City Plan Commission in hopes of getting a favorable hearing. But he's not sure. He's been battling the city for months now, and it's exhausting. "It's a constant stressor," he says. "It saps your creativity."

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86 comments
Rabbi_Pedro_Goldstein
Rabbi_Pedro_Goldstein

Being that this is Texas, I'm surprised they didn't just shoot him when he refused to plant grass

moore583
moore583

I say fight back. This smells like some low level myopic city official got their underwear up their crack and now won't back down. F them and their stupid rules. The comment about the double pane windows and working toilet was very funny.

kduble
kduble

What's he holding the soil down with, gravel? Were it just baked earth, like we have out west, I could see a quality of life objection from blowing dust.

On the whole, though, unless it's a clear violation, and this doesn't seem to be, I feel people should be allowed to do as they please with their own property.

bealotcoolerifyoudid
bealotcoolerifyoudid

I wish Junius Heights had a couple more blocks to the east of Columbia.  I would love to see how this shit goes down on East Side Ave. 

whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

Darn it...those double pained windows and the working toilet I have inside the house are not historically accurate either...I sure hope the city of Dallas does not come and rip them out.....

Jaborah
Jaborah

As long as I get my free birth control pills what difference does it make?

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

The city has more important code enforcement to do.

logic4dallas
logic4dallas

If they wanted to be historically correct, then most of the yards would be clover. It was a popular choice back then because it remained green, was drought resistant, and helped keep weeds to a minimum due to the high amount of nitrogen it put back into the soil.

I get trying to keep the area nice and to a standard. However if times or, more importantly, resources change then such things need to be revisited to determine if they still are viable.

Joni Espinoza
Joni Espinoza

I think this issue should be placed in front of a jury....

gmit
gmit

Bill Hancock, ......... aka footpenis thank you Seth

Americano
Americano

What happens in a few years when the city requires yards like this to cut back on water usage?

MrRuskin
MrRuskin

What an asshole this guy is. He knew it was a historic district when he moved in. If he has a horticulture degree, he should know this is not what Texas black land prairie looks like. Xeriscape does not mean cactus, people. It means planting things that are native and survive in our climate with little water. Join the folks like me who plant appropriately and don't water our lawns. And stop being a whiny troll of a dick.

Kraig Post
Kraig Post

I'll lay odds that those same yards resembled this one back in 1925.

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

If you look at old photos of East Dallas neighborhoods, trees are not historically accurate.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

I would suggest that if he has to go with plan b, the city should move the boulders. That should give him a couple of years respite.

casiepierce
casiepierce

Since when is planting a cactus in your yard a no-no?

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

Some people on here complain about the suburbs. But, when I was looking at doing some things to my front yard (some xeriscaping and planting fruit/vegetable beds), the person I spoke to in Garland code compliance had the attitude of I can do whatever I want as long as I keep the grass mowed and don't obstruct the street or sidewalk. 

PlanZero
PlanZero

@kduble From the pic, looks like decomposed granite. That stuff's not blowing anywhere.

G_David
G_David

@bealotcoolerifyoudid Do you mean how the lawn would go down, or the asinine restrictions?  I live on East Side, and I would love to have that front yard.

gregmarcydagama
gregmarcydagama

@MrRuskin Sir, the bad word you use reflects upon your Fascist dictates not this creative man's pursuit of personal liberty that is his and his alone. You have no right nor standing other than the First Amendment to call people whiny troll of a dick  ~ / ~ OM

donnaleiper1
donnaleiper1

@MrRuskin I was at that Landmark meeting, he said he didn't know he had to have a CA.  I agree with you.  But I also have to point out, that so many people do things on the sly, because the rulings are inconsistant.  Now they are coming to agreements, he can do this if he does that, etc.  He would have been denied at the get go and he knew it.  The historic siteline should be maintained, the problem with the Landmark is that they require people to do things that cannot be seen or differentiated from the siteline, and that is why people do things and pretend that they didn't know they needed a CA.  Then they are at a point where things are thrown out or so inaccurately done that it's almost impossible to go back.  The Landmark has forced people into being deceitful, because of the inconsistant history and the lack of information the Senior City Planners give people.  The City should be more proactive on making it positive for people to seek approval first.  This guy probably knew that another neighbor got away with something else, so he was like let's see what I can get away with. 

G_David
G_David

@primi_timpano "a couple"?  You'd have to light a giant fire under the expansive arses of ANY city employees to get anything done in less than 4.

MrRuskin
MrRuskin

Oh please. The historic district was established through a democratic process by which local property owners voted and a super majority prevailed.

Please give me your address. My personal creative liberty tells me to put a convenience market on one side of your house, a strip joint on the other, and an oil change place behind it. I'm sure you won't mind because you think anything governing property usage is fascist.

Don't but property in an historic district, well established before you arrive, and complain about the rules. Liars and cheats suck.

MrRuskin
MrRuskin

No, not really. I know a lot of people who worked very hard to establish that historic district. I also know a lot of people at the city who work very hard to help homeowners and who work very hard for little pay. So when I see somone I know to be a dishonest ass game the system and play himself up in the paper as a victim to a city too stupid to do the right thing, I think it is wrong. Knight is a liar and a manipulator. Don't blame me if you are someone who wants to drink his fake whine. Kettle, meet douchebag.

MrRuskin
MrRuskin

Yeah, we'll I don't like people who are simple basic liars and cheats. I don't like people who play the ,"I'm a simple person and I just didn't know!" card one minute, then turn around and play the, "I'm an expert and I know more than you card!" the next. Is Mr Knight too stupid to know the rules or not? Is he a professional landscaper or not? Does he really think his yard is what the blackland prairie looks like or not?

People who are honestly confused get treated with more care than lying assholes. Knight is a lying asshole. Take out the rock edging, boulders and cacti and plant some proper stuff.

MrRuskin
MrRuskin

The law calls for a $2000 fine. The rest of your message is just a list of false assertions and distortions.

USCentrist
USCentrist

@MrRuskin You sidestepped everything I had to say with a single, vague sentence, and are completely missing/ignoring my point. But I expected you would, as this entire process supports what you personally want to see happen, rather than what's fair.  I do not care that zoning rules in accordance with historic districts are well established under the law.  Laws can be changed if they're unreasonable enough, or worse, unconstitutional enough.  My point is to raise the question of whether or not we SHOULD or SHOULD NOT be doing this to other people just because we don't like the way another person chooses to live.  Doesn't matter if he/she lied about something or not, if they are the legal owner(s) of said property, there should be no issue here.  A neighbor could move in next door to me and paint his or her house a shade of green that assaults my eyes every single day, I don't feel like I have the right to tell that person to change it back any more than they should have the right to tell me I can't plant mimosa in my front yard.  So what do you support happening to this guy, Knight, if he doesn't comply with the ordinance and plant grass in his yard?  What do YOU support hypothetically happening to him if he refuses to plant grass in his yard instead of cactus?  Let's just skip to the next step since you seem to have it in for this guy, based on the rhetoric in all of your previous posts.  You want his property condemned unconstitutionally and him kicked out?  How far are YOU willing to tread into someone's personal life to violate his property owner’s rights just to have your precious, uniform streets full of grassy lawns?

MrRuskin
MrRuskin

@USCentrist @MrRuskin There is a lot wrong in your post. The imposition of zoning rules and the use of historic districts is well established in the law In that the ordinance controlling this district is a law, and since it includes the ability to impose fines on teh owner, and since he was cited, I would say he is breaking the law. The city ordinace.


"Appropriate" is defined in the ordinance. It is in the definitions section.

USCentrist
USCentrist

@MrRuskin The simple fact that people like you are wasting time obsessing about other peoples' yards shows just how petty we've become as a species.  There is a difference between 'appropriate' and flagrant violation of the law.  This guy isn't breaking any laws nor hurting anyone else.  I somehow doubt that his desert themed yard prevented YOU from getting up in the morning and proceeding about your day -- unless you go out of your way to let it.  Judging by your flagrantly and consistently inflamed posts throughout this discussion forum, I'm going to guess the latter.  

Go on, recite the rules to me again, the neighborhood to me again, and why it voted itself 'historic'.  You're going to find someone on the other end that - like many people here standing against you - doesn't care. Here's what I do care about.  The fact that we have time to tell our neighbors how they should be keeping their yards illustrates a sad society we live in today.  And you're apparently proud to be a part of it, otherwise you wouldn't spend the time defending it.  If I were that guy, I'd plant grass, then let it die.  Just to piss you off.  Hey, at least the yard would have grass.  



MrRuskin
MrRuskin

The word appropriate is typically used in these situations because what might or might not work in an early 19th century setting is complicated and requires language that is cumbersome. The landmark commission is comprised of very intelligent people who are well educated in historic architecture and settings.It is public record that this was done without approval by the landmark commission. It is also public record that, because of the giant hail storm, owners in this area got a crash course in the ca requirements, including this one who had to go through the process previously. So yes he is a liar. And by your own admission that is a big deal.Roses are perfectly appropriate to a 1910 yard. Check your history book. You can also go online and see dozens of pictures of the area back then.The rub is that good people at the city are being drug through the dirt for doing the right thing and a liar and a cheat is being lauded for same.

bealotcoolerifyoudid
bealotcoolerifyoudid

@MrRuskin The key word is "inappropriate" how is that defined in the statute.  Or is it not defined?  Are examples given or not.  Is a certain amount of variance allowed or not?  In other words, can one have a couple of rose bushes (those are blackland prairie are they)?

Whether he knew about the historic district is beside the point, he should have researched before moving into the area.  Him lieing about not knowing would be a big deal and would be an effective way to smear him, had your prior responses not undermined your own credibiltiy. 

I really don't know (and honestly don't care, I'm just killing time at work) what happened, but I imagine he went before a committee that voted 3-2 in his favor and did his work without waiting for the Certificate of Approval.  The Landmark Commission was ready to rubber stamp that decision, but didn't because of you and some of your neighbors. 

What no one really gets though, is why?  Unless, this is a personal thing, which it could be since you seem to know him and have called him a variety of unflattering names. 

MrRuskin
MrRuskin

Yeah. How about we bring it back to the issue. A homeowner in an historic district who is a professional horticulturalist and landscaper knowingly planted a yard that is inappropriate to the district. That sucked. But then he lied and said he didn't know about the historic district. That sucked. Then he lied and said because he is an expert, he can educate the landmark commission about the fact that Dallas was indeed a desert in 1910. That sucked. He then proceeded to work on a campaign to claim everyone at the city, nice hard working people, are stupid and violating his rights, and ruining the environment because apparently desert cacti are the only things that can be water wise. That sucked. And now he has people here using words like fascist to describe a situation established through democratic processes. That really sucks. And the reality is, all he had to do is the right thing. But you will defend the liar and the cheat over the honest. That really sucks.

MrRuskin
MrRuskin

Super easy. A yard that is appropriate to Arizona is not appropriate to an historic district on Dallas Texas which is not a desert. It is a prairie. It's hilarious that you think zoning is fascist. I bet the moment someone does something next to you you don't like, you will whine like a little nazi

bealotcoolerifyoudid
bealotcoolerifyoudid

@Mark Wootton @MrRuskin I think the clinical name is frigid vaginas and small penises (or is it peni? not sure of the plural)

Most people prefer to just live their lives and not be to concerned about others.  But others, usually people suffering one of the above mentioned maladies have to ruin the fun for everyone.

gregmarcydagama
gregmarcydagama

@MrRuskin "Knight does not appear to be in violation of the historic district rules, which say only that yards must be "appropriate, enhance the structure and surroundings, and not obscure views of protected facades." What part of that does this man's conservation of water does he violate. I mean EXACTLY. Not your fancy rhetoric - but the honest assessment of how he needs to be taken to the woodshed by the likes of civic minded do-gooders like you. See what I mean? He ain't doin' nothing wrong and you wish to use the cudgel of the State to suppress him. Who will back you when you get your ass in a sling, dear friend? Cut the guy some slack. Overzealousness is the first step to Fascism.

USCentrist
USCentrist

@MrRuskin You say historic district ordinances don't prohibit individual expression, but go out of your way below to say that zoning laws are well established, basically implying that they clearly can prohibit individual expression.  Make up your mind, you can't have it both ways.  And 'picket fence' was just an example.  A picket fence is no more dangerous to a community than cactii or boulders.

MrRuskin
MrRuskin

@USCentrist @MrRuskin Red herring. Historic district ordinances do not prohibit individual expression. And actually, picket fences are not typical of this district and are, therefore, inappropriate.

USCentrist
USCentrist

@MrRuskin "I know a lot of people who worked very hard to establish that historic district."

So?  Did YOU participate in it?  Planning a historic district is a fragile alliance at best, in the sense that sooner or later, be it something that was missed during the planning or some new person coming along that doesn't want to paint his or her house red, or have a picket fence... you're GOING to have people who want to be individuals.  I know that must be a challenging, difficult concept for you, but there was never a law against that in this country, not the last time I checked.

G_David
G_David

@MrRuskinYou got at least this combination of words correct:  "a city too stupid to do the right thing,"

MrRuskin
MrRuskin

@USCentrist @MrRuskin Yes my language was a bit harsh, but it should be clear that what I really care about is that this issue has been twisted to be about the city being big, bad, mean and stupid. That is not fair to the many good people who are doing the right ting, doing their jobs, and following the law. That is what matters to me. Don't really care about the yard.

USCentrist
USCentrist

@MrRuskin I don't believe for one minute you truly care about whether or not this guy is a liar.  It is clearly evidenced by the above poorly written missive, and the completely unrelated ending sentence. The ending sentence is all you care about.  Speaking of liars.

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