North Mankato man’s natural court is not a nuisance, court says

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Ed Borchardt wanted a natural yard, filled with native plants and flowers that would provide refuge for birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife. The town of North Mankato disagreed with his vision, passing a resolution declaring Borchardt’s poorly maintained yard a public nuisance.

On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals said: Let it grow.

In its decision, the court wrote that a city cannot declare a nuisance “based on little more than neighbors’ dissatisfaction with the appearance of the property.” The court ruled that the town had not produced sufficient evidence that Borchardt’s overgrown courtyard was a danger to public health or safety.

“It’s great,” said Borchardt, who retired from teaching botany and physics for 33 years at Minnesota State University, Mankato. “It has been a very, very heavy burden on me, the actions of the city.”

Borchardt began planning the natural yard shortly after moving to his ranch almost 40 years ago. The courtyard is full of milkweeds, goldenrods, peonies and hostas; tall cranberries; and apple, pear, plum and elder trees.

But in recent years, serious health problems have kept him and his wife, Ann, from keeping up with the garden work, and neighbors have started to complain about the explosion of vegetation.

Although Borchardt has made efforts to reduce it, the city council last year called the site a public nuisance.

And despite the court ruling, the city is not done with Borchardt and his court, city administrator John Harrenstein said on Monday.

“The property in question remains, in our opinion, a nuisance under our existing code,” said Harrenstein. The appeals court ruling blamed the city for not providing enough evidence to support its claim that Borchardt’s court is a nuisance, and Harrenstein said the city would consult with its lawyers on how to proceed with “the new existing nuisance” on the property.

In February, North Mankato passed an ordinance to encourage naturally managed lawns and launched an education campaign to educate citizens on how they could take a more non-traditional approach. The city has restored dozens of acres of grassland to its natural state and has even gone so far as to plant a natural lawn outside City Hall as a demonstration.

Harrenstein said he was proud of the efforts, but added that Borchardt’s lawn still does not meet the standards of the new ordinance.

Borchardt said he received support from people across the state as he fought to keep his natural lawn. Many have come in the summer to help with pruning and other maintenance work.

“I didn’t start to be a crusader,” he said. “I wanted a place to have butterflies and not have to spray and fertilize. But that’s kind of who I am.

“I’m glad so many people recognize the problem” of overuse of chemicals and destruction of natural habitat, he said. “We had a drought this summer. And I didn’t need to cut, water or fertilize. The plants just take care of themselves.”

John Reinan • 612-673-7402


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