Shorewood Woman Headed to Court in Battle over Natural Lawn

Louise Quigley says she has been harassed by the village for three years over the prairie grasses in her front yard but officials say they continue to field neighbors' complaints.

When Louise Quigley moved into her home at the corner of North Maryland Avenue and East Jarvis Street more than two decades ago, she decided to convert her lawn into a prairie to deter children traveling to and from nearby schools from using her yard as a shortcut.

She didn't want to eat the cost of a new fence demarcating her property, and the environmental and ecological benefits of the prairie grasses and flowers accenting her Shorewood home were a plus.

“I put in some prairie grasses…purple coneflowers, goldenrods, milkweeds and butterfly weeds,” she said.

“They are less work, they come up every year, they are pretty. Native perennials have all kinds of environment benefits because the native plants feed the native bugs, feed the birds; it’s the bottom of the food chain,” she said. “You can promote the survival of our ecosystem and our biosphere if you plant native plants.”

However, about three years ago, as the village started to crack down on gardens in the parkway — the patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street — and mulling an ordinance banning food gardens in front yard, officials started enforcing an ordinance governing natural lawns.

Quigley joined the fight for front yard food gardens and was given a permit to plant in the parkway, but that's when the village started harassing her over her prairie grasses, she says. Officials say they were fielding complaints from neighbors about her out-of-control lawn.

Among the complaints to the village: The tall grasses crept onto the sidewalk, creating a tripping hazard for passers-by and creating a nuisance; the tall grasses blocked the view of motorists driving through the neighborhood; and it was unsightly.

Shorewood Planning and Zoning Administrator Ericka Lang says the village has received a steady stream of complaints about Quigley's lawn — about three a year over several years, though she added they don't track the complaints — and that her grasses violate the village's ordinance governing natural lawns, which says grasses can't exceed 6 inches in height.

"We need to enforce the natural lawn ordinance due to the number of complaints," Lang said. "It’s a touchy subject and there are a lot huge gray areas in this issue."

Quigley has asked to see the complaints but the village can't produce them, and says she has only heard residents express how much they love her natural lawn.

“Whenever I working in my garden I have neighbors come by and say how much they love my garden,” she said. “Somebody told me just this year, that she was walking and everything was quiet, and when she came to my garden, all of a sudden she heard crickets chirping."

While Lang says she has received thank yous from neighbors as the village has started to crack down on her lawn.

Three-year battle coming to head in court

Quigley has since posted a sign in her yard, and is circulating letters asking neighbors and passers-by to call village officials and inform them their natural lawn ordinance is archaic.

“I take walks around the village for exercise, so when I see a planting that looks like mine, I put a letter in the door,” she said.

Quigley's battle with the village will come to a head in municipal court during a pretrial hearing on Dec. 7, after she says he was fined for not cutting down the grasses, accidentally missed a court date, and then saw her fine increase. Her two fines equal nearly $600.

Lang says she was directed to have her grasses cut by the end of August and she failed to comply. Then she missed a court date.

Quigley says she'll attend court with her lawyer, hoping to strike a deal after agreeing to bring her lawn into compliance in exchange for her fines being reduced.

The battle over gardens and natural lawns has long been a topic of discussion in Village Hall, with a citizens' uprising gathering when the village talked of drafting an ordinance disallowing garden beds in front lawns.

The Victory Garden Initiative, headed by resident Gretchen Mead, launched a few years ago with residents planting Victory Gardens in their front yards all over the village. The increase prompted officials to revisit their approach to gardens in Shorewood. Mead explained in a .

Now, parkway plantings are only allowed by permit and food gardens in front yards are allowed, though the ordinance prohibiting grass higher than 6 inches is still in effect.

Quigley's yard singled out

Last summer, Quigley says Lang asked her to create a plan for her yard and she asked why when others aren't forced to change their natural lawns.

In August, the village then said in a letter to Quigley that her lawn was fine, but that it needed to comply with the lawn ordinance. Lang says the village isn't asking her to completely remove her natural lawn, but simply to cut her grass down a bit, so it's in compliance with the local ordinance and to remove the grasses toward her home four to five feet. Quigley's property starts about four to five feet after the sidewalk, with the area technically the public right-of-way. She has since replaced the prairie grasses with rocks in the public area.

However, natural lawns like Quigley's are still prevalent throughout the village, and in response to the August letter, she wrote back saying: "I just took a one hour walk around my neighborhood and here's a three-page list of addresses that have similar kind of plantings."

Lang acknowledges that the village hasn't been proactive or asked other homeowners to comply with the natural lawn ordinance. Lang added the village is focusing on Quigley's yard because of the slew of complaints.

Quigley added the ordinance is outdated and working off the aesthetics of the 1940s.

"(The ordinance) is about lawns and it isn't about native plant communities," she said. "It was drafted way back and wasn't about 21st century aesthetics or a 21st century ecological understanding. I don't have a lawn, I have a prairie. They are using a lawn regulation to harass me about my prairie."

Quigley says she hopes the long conflict ends with the village considering some changes to the rule.

"Maybe this finally produces enough outcry and enough outrage that the village gets through its collective head that they need to write an appropriate 21st century rule," she said.

CowDung December 01, 2011 at 03:51 PM
You don't find it at all interesting that she supports the recall of a politician whose often accused of being a Libertarian? Libertarians would be the least likely to invoke the authority of the government to harass her about the appearance of her lawn, and the candidates she supports tend to be the ones that favor more government control in our lives...
paul peck December 01, 2011 at 03:58 PM
Political beliefs and the right to petition government is an extra topical issue regarding the lawn grass. If the lawn grass issue is rejected because she has made petition to redress grievance as a right of a citizen, that would be a retaliation against a citizen for excercising a constitutional liberty, which would be illegal and even treasonous. shame on you cow dung the stock issues of the prarie grass vereses lawn grass are important not extra topical issues and logical fallacies. the stock issues of the lawn
CowDung December 01, 2011 at 04:15 PM
I'm not suggesting that action for or against her be taken based on her political stance and/or affiliations. I just found it rather amusing that the situation she finds herself in is one that would have been a non-issue with libertarian style politicians in office...
CowDung December 01, 2011 at 04:30 PM
By the way, even though I have never found myself supporting any of the many candidates she endorses with her yard signs, I am on her side on this issue. I don't think that Shorewood should have the authority to interfere with our personal property by demanding that our lawns comply with their vision of what is 'correct'...
paul peck December 01, 2011 at 04:39 PM
Libertarian rhetoric claims complete deregulation yet the track record of libertarians in elected office does not meet this rhetoric. Rallies to claiming that issues like the prarie grass as a 10th ammendment issue often leaves the libertarian party to side with the tyranny of the majority. The power base of the libertarians statistically rallies the extreme right back to the republican party and as many committees require a third party politician to serve on the committee to eliminate domninance by any major party, the libertarians cater to this pragmatism. A libertarian in office on the lawn grass issue would have the same result as a libertarian serving on the Federal Reserve, and reducing the role of the Federal Reserve....the rhetoric gather votes but the power base does not serve private interests. With less government and more privatization, in an industrial economy greater control and dependancy is given to corporations where most people have no vote over many aspects of their lives. it is indeed ironic that the rhetoric of the libertarians actually calls for less civil liberty and greater dependency on fewer and fewer economic players. A professional beuracrat would be motivated to maintain the status quo and libertarians eventually become hostage to people such as those who sell lawn grass seeds in determining social policy.. and are merely different kind of bureacrats. It would not have been a non-issue with a libertarian politician
Bob McBride December 01, 2011 at 05:01 PM
PB&J, how about just no sign whatsoever? They normally aren't found in prairie landscapes and, if they were, they'd be labeled as eyesores. That being said, I'm glad I'm making each and every one of your dreary, pointless, angry, self-righteous days just a little bit brighter for you. Wouldn't want to lose you to despair. Cheers!
paul peck December 01, 2011 at 05:01 PM
That is cool cow dung....there are some core issues in the milwaukee ordinances that are pretty common in many communities. I must claim ignorance on the details of the shorewood ordinances....they are worthy of consideration. One is that some plants if they grow tall enough can grow mold and pollens and create a health hazard if they are not maintained to certain heights and parameters. Prarie grasses do not often fall into this catagory. The other issue is root systems as unseeded lawns increase run off and stress on sewer systems and promote basement flooding and require more expensive sewer systems. prarie grasses are superior to lawn grasses in this regard. If I grew corn on my lawn exclusively, there could be issues of animals eating the corn as well as safety issues of hidding predators both animal and human. Prarie grass does not create the pest problem as would a large crop, and could actually deter rodents and rabbits. an issue of thorns was mentioned on this post but this issue is not mutually exclusive to lawn grass either. We have more experience in knowning how tall grass must be cut and other maintainance issues. The issues of prarie grass species density and trim should best be considered in a manner similar to ordinances like snow removal, leaf racking and lawn mowing these issues could be resolved simply as the issues are not significant. a ban based on correctness as you say cow dung, is a point we can all agree on.
paul peck December 01, 2011 at 05:27 PM
If she wins the case, I will finally be free to use deep root system grasses that can be mowed like lawn grass and look similar to lawn grass, and prevent my basement from being flooded without worry of harassment by my neighbors or my government, or doing other things that increase the longevity of my basement. lawn grass is one of the worst choices for a lawn for many pragmatic, economic, and tax related issues.
Bob McBride December 01, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Paul, I wouldn't count on that. I doubt whatever ruling comes down is going to open homeowners up to planting whatever they want. They have to be concerned about invasive species, those species that attract pests or diseases that might negatively impact other species, etc. You may want to include yourself in the process to make sure the grass you mentioned ends up being one of the allowable species.
The Donny Show December 01, 2011 at 07:20 PM
I am not all shocked that anonymous North Shore Nancies are willing to complain but never put it in writing. Typcial of the attitude pervasive around town. "I should get what I want no matter what anyone else says or wants." Occupy the Corner of Jarvis and Maryland. Maybe "recall Erica" should be next. I am sure the union goons will need something to do once the petitions are signed.
paul peck December 01, 2011 at 07:36 PM
Good point bob....it should be noted that lawn grass is an invasive species. the prarie grasses in question are native to wisconsin. I was mindful of the details you cited. my claim was rhetoric....if we as a custom used native grasses on our lawns instead of lawn grass, we would better know intuitively how to manage it. Instead we use lawn grass and intuitively know when it needs planting, fertilizing, cutting, etc. If someone tried to introduce lawn grass to a community that was accustomed to using native wisconsin prarie grass, there would be significant problems debated with the lawn grass that are greater than ease of maintainance....but even this is a problem. I once tried to start an internet rumor that a shorewood genetic engineer made a dandelion that was gentically altered with marijuana and released it in shorewood. my hope was that it would inspire armies of people to flock to shorewood to pick dandelions off the lawns for free in hopes that it would get them high, and reduce the cost of lawn maintainence...but the internet rumor did not take off. (lol) actually, that was a joke...i never started such a rumor, and we still have dandelions...which by the way, were actually imported to north america from europe because dandelions were once desirable it would be very nice to have a range of deep rooted native grasses that people could use on their lawns as the deep roots can retain water, prevent sewer surges, and reduce basement stress and flooding
paul peck December 01, 2011 at 07:51 PM
maybe i should try to start that internet rumor that the dandelions in shorewood are genetically altered with marijuana and if you smoke them, it will get you high....if that rumor were believed, people would be marching in the streets demanding we all have natural lawns lest a high school student should ever come upon a dandelion. it is strange. I remember when people got sick from the reformulated gasoline and inspite of well documented medical cases, the committees insisted all exposure levels of the methly ether was in normal ranges. Now the methly ether is not allowed in gasoline. One look at the molecule and it showed oxy-methly radicals, the very things found in some very bad controlled substances. The methl ether once used in reformulated gas was a strong halucinagenic that would kill you too. I always wondered if ralling raw fear about the expanded availability of a controled substance would have been more effective in promoting change than a room filled with rational people with well documented cases asking for redress. something tells me fear and insanity is more politically expediant than sane, reasonable dialog. but since the last time I was called for a job interview with the shorewood PD, the chief did not even bother to show up, giving me a clear sign of what he thinks of me. which is cool. I believe he was misinformed. and there are no armies of hippies trying to pick dandelions off our lawns for free.
Bob McBride December 01, 2011 at 07:55 PM
Yep, and I agree with you on having the ability to utilize the deep rooted varieties in place of the kinds of shallow rooted turf we've become accustomed to - for just the reasons you mention. I'm just not aware of how the regulations are written and if they're written so as to limit lawns to a specific type of grass, versus written on the basis of exclusion, the tendency is to just include a few more plants which might ultimately cause some logical choices to fall outside the barriers of the restrictions. I'd love to do our who yard in prairie grasses. We have clumps in various parts of the yard now. But I also know that in a village such Shorewood or WFB (where I live) there is a desired degree of conformity that seems to appeal to the majority of the residents, in addition to restrictions for parkways that make sense from an access and visibility standpoint. And frankly, the few yards we have that have been allowed to go "wild", so to speak, do look out of place and, given the plantings that some folks are trying to use in a rather confined lot size, don't look all that "natural" or attractive for that matter. As for the folks in the lawn seed business, I don't think you'll find they'd put up much of a fuss. Most of them would rather have the opportunity to sell something that's not so much a commodity, or produce similar landscapes for those who'd like them but who aren't inclined to do the work themselves.
paul peck December 01, 2011 at 08:29 PM
bob, I have to admit ignorance on the specifics of shorewood. I researched the matter a few years ago and found more detail on the city of milwaukee ordinances. There are many items regarding mold and ragweed and footnotes to the health hazards of these plants and a list of invasive species not allowed due to high output of allergens. in almost all of these cases, the plants in question pose a health hazard only to a certain height and only for specific grasses. Not related to lawn grasses specifically, there are other ordinance sections on the piling of rummage and pick up responsibilities for dumping that specifically site that long term dumping can be a home for racoons and rodents. Again, deep rooted plants does deter many of these issues and does not offer the full protection of say, an abandoned carpet or pile of garbage, but the issue is of value. There are lists of allowable plants and plants that are not allowable. Many of these lists do allow for natural lawns. The main concern seemed to be invasive species as you say, and species that can produce allergens and mold, most of which is managable with height restrictions on certain species and in most cases, does not apply at all. in all plants that are not listed, the milwaukee ordinance says the health inspector has full judgement to allow or deny, which means that anything new would immediately be rejected as it would make more work for him or her and make the inspector the target of any complaint
paul peck December 01, 2011 at 08:42 PM
In terms of aesthetic restrictions, that is another matter. It would be best if public forums could address the stock issues....are there harms with a natural lawn that are measurable? Are there harms with lawn grass that is measurable? etc. There are benefits to prarie grass verses lawn grass and the issues of health and safety can actually be better addressed with native prarie grass than with lawn grass. next, the issue comes to aesthics. The understandings of lawn maintanance are well understood because they are customary....when a lawn needs to be seeded...when dandelions need to be pruned...when the grass is too high and needs mowing...etc. these same things can be as easily figured out with prarie grasses, but because they are less customary, they seem much larger Aesthetic conveyances can then be discussed....it is true that in free speech cases, specific message for free expression has greater weight than generalized expression. The courts have ruled that ones right to make a sign has more protection than the choice of what color to paint ones house for example. however, one does still have free speech rights to paint a house or choose lawn coverings. Because lawn grass is customary, the parameters are social norms but this is more reason why a dialog is needed to promote workability rather than an outright ban as regulations on aesthetics rarely works, and a dialog can allow the natural lawn owner more options than the present restrictions
michael aita December 01, 2011 at 08:42 PM
i have in fact complained many times about the mess on jarvis and maryland. i complained on the phone and in emails. the problem is shorewood selectively enforces laws.
paul peck December 01, 2011 at 09:00 PM
It sounds like they do not enforce your complaints which may be something different....more reason for a community dialog to promote workability because no one person is judge and jury for the entire community.
paul peck December 01, 2011 at 09:11 PM
if there is a problem, then there is a solution. if there is no solution or if no solution is willing to be accepted, then it is not a problem but a conflict. Conflicts have no solutions. they continue in episodic struggle to reach a resolution with often is a seed for another conflict, and when the episodes are finished, the given circumstances are so different that the original issues are irrelevant. It is a shame that given the benefits of a natural lawn, that a dialog to promote workability is rejected, and instead, a conflict is demanded that seeks a resolution through tyranical bullying, even as our basements flood. and it is a shame that those who do not join in on the bullying are vilified. it is a shame this has gone to court as there are better ways. and if she wins her case, many deep rooted grasses that are not offensive can be used by people to reduce stresses on basement structures and do other good things and people no longer need to fear the bullying by people who seek a problem but refuse to work on a solution.
CowDung December 01, 2011 at 09:23 PM
Shorewood does/did have a program for putting in 'rain gardens', where the village offered to install gardens with the 'deep rooted' grasses and such that you are talking about, Paul. I would think that even minimal dialog between the parties involved could have brought some sort of compromise that everyone could live with...
paul peck December 01, 2011 at 09:37 PM
I agree with you on that one cow dung. a minimal dialog on natural lawns can easily develop into new solutions... If I wanted to plant bushes for added privacy and my neighbor did too, each of us may plant fewer bushes and have more of an aesthetic balance with the same pragmatic result, but if I plant all the bushes myself, the same objections to what is being raised against louise could just as easily result. and if I planted my yard full of bushes, irresposible pet owners who let their dogs roam free and poop and pee on peoples yards would come to my yard and find no space to mark their spot and poop and pee on other peoples lawns, who would in turn blame me rather than the irresponsible pet owner, or to take responsibility themselves and plant some bushes on their property too. a minimal dialog often results in new solutions not previously known. going to court is seeking a different kind of resolution I totally agree with you on this one cow dung
Bob McBride December 01, 2011 at 10:28 PM
I had to run over to the Post Office a while back and thought I'd drive by to see what the property looked like. Granted, we're in one of those seasons right now where vegetation as whole is not looking it's best, but I did note a few things that could probably be improved upon as of right now that might at least make the grounds as a whole look more "attended to". The first thing that caught my eye as I rolled by was a headless purple rag doll on a stick exhibiting a definite lean to the NE, stuck in the ground at the parkway right in front of the entrance. Then came the two signs stuck in the midst of the eastern most part of the yard, as seen above. Since the doll had distracted me quite a bit, I thought it best to circle back and give it another look. Upon doing so, I noted quite a bit of garbage caught up in the grass itself - most seemed to be paper and perhaps a plastic shopping bag or two. Overall, the impression was one of a place not well kept up - much of that may be attributed to the doll, the bags and paper, and that it looked like the leaves were raked around a bit and then just left in various piles. I guess my point is that, if I were in the process of trying to get approval for a code variance so that I could keep my "prairie", I'd perhaps keep it a little better policed, at least while that approval process is still in the works. It looks pretty junky right now.
paul peck December 01, 2011 at 11:56 PM
but then they are not invasive species nor creating problems that are alleged. and it is possible to create land management policy that is proper to native wisconsin grass species just as it is possilble to establish them for invasive species like lawn grass. but nothing is possible if people do not try it is good if a dialog on workability were implimented....and issues and principles of land management could be discussed topically.
paul peck December 02, 2011 at 03:48 AM
It took 68 years to bring a can opener to market after the wide spread use of the can. In 50 AD, Hero of Alexandria showed his steam engine to the emperor and explained how it could power boats, chariots and even described moving assembly lines. The emperor ruled that the steam engine should be kept secret and outlawed it from even discussion. "what would we do with all the slaves?" he asked. what bothers me bob, is that in the '70's several people in a Chicago suburb replaced lawn grass with alfalfa and mowed it. No one noticed, until it was mentioned in conversation and then reported to city officials who demanded it be changed back to lawn grass. no one noticed. and when I suggested that if louise wins I could do the same and break up the dense clay, remove stress from my basement wall, retain water in the soil, and reduce sewer stress, and be free from tyranny of neighbors, you responded that this would not be the case. yes, the wind blows paper and stuff on all peoples lawns and true enough, there may be land management issues for a prarie in a suburban setting that are appropriate and different from lawn grass. it is sad this has become a wedge issue rather than figuring out new possibilites and making them workable. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4v3etuIw-aM
Bob McBride December 02, 2011 at 04:04 AM
Paul, all I did was suggest that you may want to involve yourself in this case to the extent that you find out whether or not what you want to do is ultimately part of the outcome of the case, should she win. If you're confident you're covered great. I'd just hate to see you go through the expense and effort, only to find out that what you did was still in violation of whatever code Shorewood ultimately comes up with. And I still think if someone's going to court with the anticipation of having a finding in their favor (and who doesn't?), it's generally best to make the best appearance you can. It's why lawyers rarely suggest you just throw on any old thing for a court appearance, unless they feel there's some advantage to looking like a derelict. In this case, if you're trying to get a variation to allow the kind of yard she wants, it would be best if didn't offer up as one of the side effects the fact that debris gets tangled up in it in such a fashion. The headless doll on the stick is just likely to make people wonder about her a bit.
Cricket December 02, 2011 at 04:12 AM
While her lawn is not my particular style, I think she should be allowed to keep it. I've lived in Shorewood for over 20 years and I am a little sick of the selectiveness of the village on what they think is appropriate. With the high taxes we pay, that leaves little funds for some of the upkeep they expect. . Even though the yard does not look it's best in the fall and winter, it does provide protection and a food source for animals. As long as the site lines at the corner of Jarvis and Maryland are not compromised. With St Roberts and Atwater schools being right down the road, that can be a tricky corner at certain times of the day. Shorewood has always prided itself on being a diverse community. I guess that only applies if everyone thinks the same. On the subject of political signage though - I do think there should be an ordinance on that. I really do not care who my neighbors vote for or think should be recalled. I also know for a fact if I put up a Walker sign my tire's would be slashed and my house egged.
paul peck December 02, 2011 at 01:13 PM
Thank you for the clarification bob. I do appreciate it. the doll on the stick and peoples perceptions of it is a red herring. a prairie lawn is not a prairie. it is a natural lawn in a suburban setting and there may be issues of land management different from lawn grass or a prairie. After all, on a prairie there is less intrusion from human civilization and natural cycles of balance. We understand about land management for lawn grass because it is customary, and certain norms regarding it, and we have come to accept the disadvantages of lawn grass as a custom too, so habitually that we cease to be aware of the harms we live with. the question of what is good land management for a natural lawn in a suburban setting really is common for both sides Louise believes that a natural lawn is good land management, and there are sound reasons for this. She certainly is aware that this is not the norm in a suburban setting. Lawn grass is customary, has relatively low maintenance, ie. litter often blows across from one yard to another before it is picked up. a natural lawn in a suburban setting may require more attention in picking up other peoples trash than a standard lawn. maybe there are considerations for better integration common to both side. lawyers seldom broker this kind of dialog.
paul peck December 02, 2011 at 01:22 PM
its a shame when a community offers no means for a dialog and for resolution as person has no other option but to excercise the right to resolve grievances in a court system. I don't think louise alone can be vilified for this as court may be the only forum available to try to initiate a dialog, and there are sound reasons why prairie grass is good land management in a suburban setting. There are sound reasons why managing a natural lawn in a suburban setting may require different sets of responsibilities that do not apply to standard lawn grass. yes, the polarity of one side verses another in a court setting often is an episodic struggle that is never about the core issues of the problem, but ultimately becomes a struggle for everything else that is unrelated.
Bob McBride December 02, 2011 at 02:36 PM
It may be a red herring, but you know that for those who oppose such lawns, they'll utilize that along with the garbage stuck in the grass itself as a reason to suggest that what's being discussed is actually a sloppy, unattended yard. It would take 5 minutes for her to get that stuff out of there and to possibly avoid having it used against her.
paul peck December 02, 2011 at 11:41 PM
I agree with you there bob. I would heed your advice as often red herrings are effective rally points even if a logical fallacy in themselves. I would also agree that the observations you have mentioned may be issues of what is appropriate responsibility to manage a natural lawn in a suburban setting.
Frank C January 20, 2013 at 02:15 PM
I used to have a vegetable garden in the backyard of my urban New Orleans home when I was attending college over a decade ago (I moved to Shorewood from the Big Easy). I never spoke to any of the neighbors in five years living there, and no one ever complained.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »