The Austin Chronicle

From Shrub to Nub

By Richard Whittaker, July 8, 2011, News

Last week, we reported on Coronado Hills homeowner Laura Croteau's attempts to protect her wildlife-friendly yard from city staff, whom she feels are targeting her for having something other than a neatly trimmed lawn. As the story was hitting newsstands on June 30, she was awakened by the sound of chain saws as a work crew from the city's Urban Forestry unit chopped down a stretch of her hedge.

"By the time I got out the door, it was already gone," Croteau said, and staff was spraying the ground with herbicide. What is galling to her is that her yard has been certified as a Wildlife Habitat (see "Nature Violates City Code," July 1), designed to use native and wild-growing plants to attract wildlife.

This is the latest round in a fight between Croteau and the city, which has been responding to complaints from her neighbors about her yard. Two members of Code Compliance visited her home on June 28, and, she said, "They told me that I had made such a big stink about this that they no longer wanted to take me to court, that they were just going to send the urban forester and he was going to determine what would be needed to be done to clear the line of sight for that corner." However, when the forester visited on June 29, he told her that they were going to chop down a stretch of photinia shrubbery, which she had already trimmed to remove any possible street sign obstruction.

Code Compliance argued that Croteau's bushes created a blind corner, and Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Victor Ovalle explained that Urban Forestry simply works with Code Compliance when requested on such issues. While he was concerned about any potential miscommunication, he said he was "glad to hear that they talked to [Croteau]" the day before the cutting.

Croteau's concern is that even with the plants gone, the tension with her neighbors will continue and city staff will keep coming back to placate the complainant. Now she's been informed that she will have a fresh fight on her hands: She received a copy of a letter telling her that humane traps will be set to deal with vermin. That includes the neighborhood's feral cats, which Croteau said she has found to be the best vermin control around. The letter said they would be caught and neutered, which could be difficult. Croteau said, "All the cats have already been neutered and released."

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