Bend’s planning commission closed one avenue a couple could use to preserve artificial turf in their riverfront yard on Monday. However, the commission did not leave Jackie and Ray Haworth entirely without hope.

Planning commissioners determined by a unanimous vote Monday the turf on the Haworths’ yard is neither an alteration of their former grass lawn nor a water-related use allowed near the river.

“Just because it’s green and looks like grass, it’s not the same thing,” Planning Commissioner Scott Winters said.

But commissioners also ruled that the particular brand of turf and the slope of the Haworths’ lawn create a permeable surface, which means some of the turf could be allowed. The Haworths and their attorney can now decide whether to pursue an application for some turf, appeal the commission’s decision to the Bend City Council or resod their yard with real grass.

The decision does little to clarify whether turf is allowed along stretches of the Deschutes River and Tumalo Creek, where the city of Bend has long tried to encourage more natural river vegetation.

City code isn’t clear on the subject, said Planning Commissioner Vincent Mercurio, who wants guidance from the City Council. The planning commission’s decision on the Haworths’ lawn comes uncomfortably close to setting city policy, he said.

“I’ve felt all along that with some of these waterway overlay issues the council needs to give us some direction,” he said. “I’m kind of in favor of booting this to (the) council.”

Onlookers, many of whom demonstrated support for the Haworths by wearing green ribbons with “yes” written on them, filled City Council chambers for the planning commission’s decision.

The Haworths installed turf at their riverfront house just south of the Gilchrist Avenue footbridge in April 2017, a little more than a year after the city’s code enforcement department required them to get rid of a dock they’d installed without permits. The crane they used to remove the dock tore up the lawn, and traffic from frequent dog and human visitors kept it from growing back.

The city was pursuing municipal court action against the Haworths before deciding to have the planning commission rule instead, Bend Senior Planner Aaron Henson said.

“Had the applicants merely restored lawn with lawn, we wouldn’t be here,” Henson said.

Property owners along the Deschutes River and Tumalo Creek have to follow stricter design and landscaping rules than landowners elsewhere in Bend because of a long-term but slow-moving effort by the city to create more natural areas around the waterways.

Those rules don’t apply to buildings or lawns that existed before the new zone taking effect in 2002. Those property owners can keep their homes and grass lawns. The Haworths argued their turf lawn isn’t substantially different than the grass lawn they previously had.

“Because the nonconforming grass lawn was replaced with about 1,000 square feet of turf and 450 cubic feet of rock, we feel like that’s not merely an alteration of the prior nonconforming use,” Henson said.

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