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Fake grass causing neighborhood flap

Les Bernstein may have the greenest yard in Raleigh's Falls River neighborhood, but his water-saving artificial grass is stirring up trouble between him and his homeowners association.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Les Bernstein may have the greenest yard in Raleigh's Falls River neighborhood, but he hasn't turned on his sprinkler system all year.

After trying to maintain his fescue lawn during the drought, Bernstein chose to install low-maintenance, water-saving artificial grass.

"The only thing you have to do is sweep it off once in a while," he said.

Bernstein made the $6,500 investment this May, but it wasn't long before the Falls River Community Association weighed in. The homeowners association sent a letter telling Bernstein that he needed signatures from neighbors because he did not get prior approval for the artificial grass.

"(Neighbors) look at their lawns, which are weeds or are hard to maintain, and they look at this, and the first thing they want to do is install it themselves," Bernstein said.

He says he gathered the signatures and presented them to the board, but he got back a letter saying he has to remove the artificial grass by Sept. 30.

"We were horrified," Bernstein said. "We put a lot of money into this to keep our house looking good, to keep our lawn looking good."

He says the association's covenants, which require fescue grass, were written 14 years ago, before the modern artificial grass he had installed existed. It comes in different color variations to match the ocal surroundings. It requires no watering, no mowing and no fertilizer.

"We keep telling them it's time (for the covenants) to be updated and step into the real world," Bernstein said. "They won't come back from their decision."

The Falls River Community Association did not respond to repeated requests for a comment.

"I'm not looking to ruffle feathers. I want my lawn to look good, like any other homeowner," Bernstein said.

Homeowners associations aren't the only groups dealing with the push toward environmentally friendly projects. Local and state governments also are trying to catch up with new developments.

State lawmakers took some action last year, enacting a law that overrides some neighborhood restrictions on solar panels.

"These technologies are so new that the rules of the road don't really exist yet," said Steve Kalland, executive director of the N.C. Solar Center in Raleigh.

He says last year's law governing solar panels is a step in the right direction.

"I think the appropriate role for state and local government is, to some extent, to take all of the different types of concerns and try to find a reasonable balance that achieves the best public good," Kalland said.

Meanwhile, Les Bernstein takes his case back to the homeowners association Wednesday night. He's waiting to see if he'll lose his green yard.

"Life goes on," he said. "When you come back next year, this is liable to be all weeds or all dirt or something."


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