Another View - HDC considers further restrictions on fencing and trellises

Monday, August 17, 2009

There is a major national trend toward the popularity of locally grown, organic foods that are healthier for people and the planet. But current regulations under consideration by the Historic District Commission (HDC) would go against the localization movement trend, best exemplified by the new organic garden at the White House, by making it more difficult and expensive to keep deer out of gardens.

The proposed regulations would ban deer netting and inexpensive wire fencing from the perimeter of properties, redefine some trellises as fencing requiring a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) and restrict garden fencing to a maximum of 400 square feet.

Deer overpopulation, caused in large part by recreational deer feeding, is a huge problem in Eureka Springs. Wildlife experts say deer feeding harms deer by spreading diseases. Overgrazing harms the environment. The deer cause many thousands of dollars worth of damage to yards and gardens, and are a major traffic hazard.

Bamboo trellises like this are effective in keeping deer away, and last about two years. Photo by Chip Ford

Feed deer; feed ticks

Deer ticks spread Lyme disease. And where there are large concentrations of deer, there are more ticks. At least two people in Eureka Springs have gotten Lyme disease, both from tick bites in close proximity to deer-feeding sites.

So why would HDC be considering regulations to make it more difficult for gardeners to keep out a nuisance that can destroy their property and spread ticks that carry serious diseases?

Well, here it gets personal. Five months ago my partner purchased a non-contributing home in a secluded area with an agricultural history and an unusually large garden spot -- six lots. Our house is on one lot, and we put up bamboo trellises to serve double duty to grow plants on while keeping the deer out of three of the lots we are gardening. Bamboo is a sustainable, natural material that will last only a year or two. We are planning to grow vegetative barriers to the deer, and eventually the temporary bamboo trellises won't be needed.

The only other fencing approved by HDC that would keep deer out is 8-foot tall wooden fences. Not only would that be extremely expensive, but treated wood is toxic and non-sustainable.

An 18th Century model

What we are doing today is trying to go back to the sustainability model that was a way of life in the 18th Century. We think that "peak everything" combined with current and looming economic problems means that food security is critical. We support the Locavore movement, the Well Fed Neighbor Alliance (http://wellfedneighbor.com/), and Carroll County Fresh.

We have invested more than a thousand dollars in mulch, organic fertilizers, drip irrigation and water catchment systems with aeration run by solar panels. In a few short months, an expanse of Bermuda grass has been turned into a no till garden so productive that we are able to share the wonderful harvest with neighbors, friends, the local food pantry and even a couple of local restaurants.

We have received only positive comments on our gardens and trellises except for one neighbor with a bed and breakfast establishment who runs a large nuisance deer-feeding operation. She daily feeds a herd of 20 to 30 deer, making the deer pressure in our neighborhood enormous. She is also an HDC commissioner. After she filed a complaint about our trellises, we responded that they are temporary, set back from her adjoining property and within HDC guidelines.

Inappropriate use of authority

So, now regulations are being proposed to specifically prohibit what we are doing. It should be apparent that it isn't appropriate for an HDC commissioner to use her position in order to reprise against neighbors who are just trying to grow food for themselves and others. And the problem is, the new regulations would harm a lot more people than just us. Many people have deer netting on their property, for example, which would no longer be allowed.

The purpose of the HDC is to preserve the historical integrity of this beautiful Victorian town whose lifeblood is tourism. But Eureka Springs isn't a museum. It is place where modern people live, and regulations shouldn't put a burden on people who just want to use their property to grow food and flowers. And why not add agri-tourism to the list of attractions?

These proposals would be very hostile to urban agriculture. And, ironically, if you want to be historically accurate, then the type of gardening we are doing should be encouraged. This part of town was home to African Americans in the 18th Century. They had barbed wire fences (now banned by the HDC), raised livestock such as pigs and chickens, and grew most of the food they consumed.

'The pretty police'

The HDC's role should be preservation of historic structures in Eureka Springs, not gentrification so everyone's home has to look like an upscale B & B. We think our bamboo trellises, made with designs from the book The Art and Craft of Bamboo, are attractive and could be considered folk art. Our neighbor disagrees. But it isn't the proper role of the HDC to be "the pretty police."

Prior to putting up barriers to the deer, we were getting on average one to three tick bites a day -- a big concern considering one of our neighbors got Lyme disease. Now we get very few bites. So deer barriers not only protect gardens, but the health of people.

The HDC will be meeting on this Wednesday night, Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. at City Hall. My hope is that they will at least delay implementation of these regulations until people have the opportunity to comment on them. If you believe in the freedom to use natural, sustainable materials to fence out deer to protect gardens, and not just for a garden less than 400 square feet, please call the HDC commissioners or send an email to Glenna Booth, the city's historic preservation officer, at ACE@cityofeurekasprings.org.

Proposed modifications

Below is the wording of the most substantial proposed changes:

"J. Gardens of 400 square feet or less may have fences of chicken wire, rabbit wire, hog wire, or deer netting to protect individual gardens inside a property from pests without a COA. These materials may NOT be used as perimeter fencing.

"K. Trellises over five feet tall that are touching or linked together on the perimeter will be reviewed as fencing.

"L. Open split-rail and other open rustic fences made of natural materials may be permitted if the Commission determines that the placement does not have an adverse effect on the character-defining features of the building, streets, or the District as a whole."