Local News

Raleigh panel OKs pine straw limits for apartments, townhomes

Posted April 27, 2010 5:06 a.m. EDT
Updated April 27, 2010 8:12 p.m. EDT

— A Raleigh City Council committee on Tuesday approved restrictions on using pine straw in landscaping outside apartment buildings and townhouse complexes.

The full council is expected to consider the tougher rules next Tuesday.

The Raleigh Fire Department recommended an ordinance prohibiting the use of pine straw within 10 feet of combustible structures, aside from single-family homes and duplexes.

The recommendation came after a March 23 fire that destroyed seven homes in the Highland Creek subdivision off Louisburg Road in northeast Raleigh.

Pine straw next to units in the Pine Knolls Townes complex, off Capital Boulevard in Raleigh, also helped spread a February 2007 fire that damaged or destroyed 38 townhouses.

Despite a plea from Mayor Charles Meeker to keep pine straw 20 to 30 feet from buildings, the City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee approved the fire department's recommended 10-foot limit.

"It is not imminent danger to homeowners or citizens of Raleigh, but it is something that needs to be addressed," Fire Chief John McGrath said. "I think we're taking a prudent point of view and approach to it."

Meeker said last month that Raleigh didn't go far enough in changing building codes after the Pine Knolls Townes fire, and it was time to make up for that oversight.

If approved by the full council, the restrictions would take effect next year, giving property owners time to move pine straw back from their buildings and replace it with other ground cover.

Apartment manager Brenda Brantley says it will cost nearly $20,000 to convert the property she handles because pine straw is cheaper to use than mulch.

"We're going to do whatever we have to do to comply," Brantley said. "It would just be nice if we could get the one-year period so we would be able to budget it for next year and not have to pay twice for landscaping materials because I just paid over $12,000 in February."

McGrath said fire department inspectors also would use that time to educate people about the new rules.

"We're use our inspection arm plus our special education arm to start to get the message out," he said.

The ordinance doesn't address pine straw outside single-family homes and duplexes because the fire department doesn't have the authority to enforce regulations on them. Authorities have said building inspectors could enforce tougher pine straw rules on those residences, and city officials said they might revisit the issue.

"The process is that any inspection, any house we will go to, we will try to tell people about the danger of having pine straw close to your house," Councilman John Odom said.