City works on code change for controversial vegetable garden

Helvengstons protest Orlando's law despite proposal

Published On: Jan 30 2013 03:48:19 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 15 2013 07:49:06 AM EST
ORLANDO, Fla. -

The city of Orlando says it's trying to work with the couple whose front yard vegetable garden has sparked controversy nationwide by passing new regulations that would require changes to their garden, a move that would affect several others in College Park.

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In November, Local 6 first reported the story about the controversial garden after the city told the Helvengstons their 25-by-25-foot garden was not in compliance with the city's code.

The city had asked the couple to uproot it because it was against the landscaping code that requires permanent maintained ground cover with a finished appearance.  The city threatened to fine Jennifer and Jason Helvengston $500 per day. Since then, however, the city has dropped the violation and is working to change the code itself.

"We reached out to the community, talked to landscape architects, we looked at what other cities are doing," said Jonathan Ippel, sustainability director of the city of Orlando. "We're trying to be flexible and provide a variety of different options."

One proposal calls for allowing up to 25 percent of a front yard to be a vegetable garden. Plants could not exceed 4 feet in height and planters would need to be 3 feet from the sidewalk.

Etta Klein, of College Park, says her plans of expanding the vegetable garden in her front yard are on hold because of the proposal.

"We don't want go ahead and do something and find out that we have to rip it out later," said Klein.

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Klein's neighbor says he has no problem with her garden, but says he could see why the garden could be a potential issue.

"I understand that.  Like I said, people would look out the window and say, 'Oh God, I have to look at this guy's terrible garden,'" said Chris Ewing.

The proposal, which also addresses gardens in back and side yards, is set to go before the municipal planning board next week.  The city council could vote on it by March.

The city says they hope the proposal will satisfy gardeners, while maintaining a neat appearance.

If the proposal passes, the city said it won't cite anyone for not complying for at least 6 months.

The Helvingstons said they don't agree with the proposal and plan to fight it, saying the size and setback requirements will make it impossible to maintain a healthy front yard garden.