On Jan. 3, Carrabelle’s City Commission passed an ordinance to promote water conservation measures in landscape design.

Although the basics of Ordinance 454 was mandated by the North Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD), city commissioners had some discretion in writing the law. City Attorney Dan Hartman said Carrabelle’s newest ordinance was modeled on an ordinance passed in Port St. Joe.

The planning and zoning board reviewed the new law before the Jan. 3 meeting and suggested several changes to the original draft

“The purpose of these regulations is to establish minimum standards for the development, installation, and maintenance of landscaped areas without inhibiting creative landscape design,” reads the new ordinance.

The goal of the newly created standards is water conservation. Water usage is reduced by preserving existing plant communities; or re-establishing native plant communities; using water for irrigation efficiently; and growing site specific plant materials. Native plant materials are preferred because they require little or no supplemental water to survive.

Eastpoint’s Joyce Estes, vice chair of the NWFWMD, said she supports the new landscape ordinances. “We do need to be more aware of our environment,” she said. “We all want pretty lawns but we do need to be more aware of what God gave us.”

Estes said she and her husband Jim have tried to maintain much of their own waterfront property in a natural state to benefit wildlife and preserve the health of the estuary.

The new law mandates specific water conservation measures including installing a rain sensor device in all automatic lawn irrigation systems to minimize runoff and wastewater. Property can be inspected for compliance by the city code enforcement officer with 24 hours notice to the owner.

Landscape design for developments larger than a duplex must be done by “a person knowledgeable of Florida plant materials, plant communities, and landscape and irrigation principles.” Owners of duplexes and single family dwellings may create their own plan. Landscape plans are to be presented for approval within 180 days of issuance of a certificate of occupancy for a new property.

The ordinance mandates the use of 75 percent native plants in all landscape designs and “As much native vegetation as possible is to be preserved during development.” Resources to identify native plants include the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service publications: "Native Florida Plants for Home Landscapes"; "Conserving Water in the Home Landscape" and "Drought Tolerant Plants for North and Central Florida."

Only 5 percent of the landscaped area can be covered by materials impervious to water, such as concrete, plastic or asphalt. Driveways are considered part of the landscape and fall under this section of the ordinance.

Ordinance 454 bans the use of certain invasive plants including water-hyacinth; hydrilla; green hygro; cogon grass also known as Japanese blood grass; water-spinach; catclaw and silk tree mimosa; water-lettuce; popcorn tree also known as Chinese tallow tree; turkey berry; tropical soda apple; Ardisia also known as Marlberry and Spiceberry; Para grass; camphor-tree; taro; lather leaf; Surinam cherry; West Indian marsh grass; Gold Coast, Brazilian and day jasmine; non-native lantanas including all of the ornamental forms commonly sold by nurseries; hedge privet aka Ligustrum; Japanese honeysuckle; Lygodium or Japanese climbing fern; cat's claw; sword fern; Burma reed or cane grass; ground orchid; skunk vine; Napier grass also known as elephant grass; kudzu; downy rose myrtle; oyster plant; scaevola also known as half­flower or beach naupaka; incised halberd fern; white-flowered wandering Jew and, horror of horrors, chinaberry.

The chinaberry is considered by some to be Carrabelle’s city tree but don’t fear, Carrabelle’s beloved “Police Tree,” an ancient chinaberry located next to the “World’s Smallest Police Station” is grandfathered in as an existing, mature tree.

Although a few of the native grasses are suitable for lawns, the use of turf grass is discouraged under the new ordinance. This type of grass is limited to, “those areas on the site that receive pedestrian traffic, provide for recreation use, or provide soil erosion control such as on slopes or in swales; and where turf grass is used as a design unifier, or other similar practical use.”

Carrabelle is charged with sponsoring regular workshops or short courses to educate the public on good landscaping and irrigation practices.

Under Ordinance 454, City Manager Courtney Millender or City Clerk Keisha Smith must review and approve all landscape plans for new developments or revisions of more than 50 percent of any landscape design.

Specialized athletic fields such as baseball fields are also exempt but the landscape surrounding athletic fields must comply. Non-irrigated areas and areas that are irrigated with shallow well water are exempt from the requirements of 454.

Existing landscape designs are grandfathered in, but if the owner of a property revises more than 50 percent of the landscape, the entire property must be brought into compliance. The city commission can grant variances and special exceptions to the rules.