KIHEI - When Maui County asked South Maui consumers to cut back on water use, homeowner Wolfgang Bayer replaced his front lawn with artificial grass estimating it will save 20,000 gallons of water a year.
But he did not submit a landscaping plan and get approvals first from the Kilohana Ridge Homeowners Association.
The association issued a notice of violation with a $100 fine.
To the left are homes with real grass and to the right is Wolfgang Bayer’s artificial grass, which is a darker green than that in his neighbors’ yards. Bayer said his fake grass lawn should cut his water use by 20,000 gallons a year.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
"I felt what I was doing was the right thing. I wanted to make a point. I agreed to be the guinea pig and go and get this done," Bayer said.
Association President Connie Lappin said it's not a problem of saving water but of following association rules and submitting plans.
"Any project of any scope requires approval," she said.
In fact, about a month after Bayer was issued notice of the fine, the association board of directors approved the use of artificial grass in front yards with "reasonable limitations."
In a phone interview from his other home in Wyoming, Bayer said he not only wanted to conserve water, but that he wanted to reduce noise and dust pollution created by lawnmowers and leaf blowers that he says pump dirt and dust into the air.
Bayer eliminated his grass lawn and took out 12 sprinkler heads after receiving the mass mailed letter signed by Mayor Charmaine Tavares asking water users to voluntarily reduce their water use by 10 percent because of the dry conditions plaguing Maui County since March.
The artificial grass was installed at his home near Kilohana Drive in May.
"I am contributing to about a 20,000-gallon-per-year savings which is actually more than the requested 10 percent. I then had some artificial turf installed by a reputable company and everything looks great. I felt it to be a win-win situation," he said in a e-mail to The Maui News to explain his situation.
"That feeling did not last long."
Lappin said the Kilohana Ridge Homeowners Association asked Bayer "several times" to submit a landscape plan and include his plan for artificial grass.
Lappin, who was traveling on the Mainland last week, said in an e-mail that she told Bayer before he began installing his artificial lawn that the neighborhood had not approved the use of artificial grass in the front yards of the homes in Kilohana Ridge.
Because Bayer is out of state, Lappin said the board will require him to make the "minor changes" when he gets back but he will be subject to fines if he does not comply.
Lappin did not specify in the e-mail what changes Bayer needs to make.
County Water Director Jeff Eng said his department does not have a position on artificial grass, but acknowledges there are benefits.
"It does cut back on water use. It certainly reduces their water bill. If that's what they like to achieve, we support what they are doing."
Bayer admitted he's a "real hardhead" and he knew the board wanted to know about his plans and he would need to get their approval. He said he went ahead because he thought the board would refuse his request for artificial grass.
The association previously barred artificial grass in front yards although it has been allowed in backyards and side yards.
Bayer said he's not concerned with the $100 fine, but is fearful of the potential for enormous legal fees if he needs to defend in court his decision on how to landscape his own property.
A retired wildlife cinematographer, he said he has submitted plans to the association for approval on matters such as panting his house and other landscaping.
"When it comes to saving water and getting rid of noise pollution, I don't think they have a leg to stand on," he said.
Bayer paid around $4,000 for his artificial turf called SYNLawn. According to its Web site, SYNLawn is a combination of nylon, monofilament and polyethylene and is maintenance free. Its underside is light green in color and is similar to the underside of carpet.
"It doesn't look fake when you drive by, it just looks nice and green," Bayer said.
Bayer said the artificial grass in contention only occupies a small portion of his front lawn. There are two strips of the artificial grass along Bayer's driveway with a wider strip under palms and ginger plants. The artificial grass is dark green compared to the neighbors' real, but lighter green grass.
Lappin said this is not the first time Bayer has gone forward on a "large project" without prior approval, but he was not fined previously when the board helped him through the process.
Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.