Officials of the water-wasting Winterhaven neighborhood have taken the revolutionary step of approving Kathleen Manton-Jones' water-wise landscape plans.
Friendly neighborliness stops cold in stuck-in-the-'50s Winterhaven, billed as a model of the Cleveland suburb Shaker Heights when it was developed and marketed in 1949.
Now, the Winterhaven Water & Development Co. is threatening to put a lien on the home Manton-Jones has owned since 1997 unless she pays $560 in "landscape non-compliance" fines and late fees that were caused primarily by dilatory moves by the Winterhaven board.
After nearly two years of battling to use less water, Manton-Jones has not lost her sense of humor.
Of the Sept. 14 letter in which James W. Kaucher, president of the homeowners association known as Winterhaven Water & Development, demanded the money and threatened the lien, Manton-Jones says: "Everybody wins."
Winterhaven is a 270-home subdivision north of Fort Lowell Road and between Country Club Road and Tucson Boulevard. Most homes are surrounded by lush turf and big trees that gulp water from Winterhaven's own wells. Manton-Jones had politely sought a waiver of the fines and fees and believed --unrealistically, as it turned out--that Winterhaven directors had finally begun to lighten up after having finally approved her less-turf, more-desert-and-rock landscape plan. And she wasn't asking for anything not historically given other Winterhaven residents.
"Your request was presented to and considered by the Board at its Sept. 13, 2004 meeting," Kaucher informed Manton-Jones in the letter the following day. "The Board voted to reject your request."
The board followed that by authorizing, this week, Winterhaven lawyer Luis Ochoa to run his meter by investigating the matter and taking action that could include filing the lien. The lien has the potential to foul Manton-Jones' credit and, in the worse case, threaten her ownership of her East Kleindale Road home.
It is a step, Kaucher said in an interview, that neither he nor his Winterhaven board colleagues wanted to take.
"We've bent over backwards," he says. The problem, according to Kaucher, is the time it took for Manton-Jones to install the new low-water landscape. According to Kaucher, board members offered to help Manton-Jones with the landscape work and materials. In light of that and because Manton-Jones did not make an in-person appeal, Kaucher says, "no one on the board felt it was appropriate to waive the fees.
"I respect her passion for her position. But did she bring it into compliance on time? She did not."
Manton-Jones says Winterhaven caused the delays with the board's slow-moving process to approve the redesign of her front yard and by repeatedly demanding she have more grass than she wanted. She invested in a landscape architect, the materials and the work she and her husband put into the yard.
A Winterhaven resident for four years, Kaucher succeeded Chris Chandler as president in March. Chandler resigned shortly after the Weekly ran a feature about Winterhaven's water policy and its demand that Manton-Jones keep her ground green (Feb. 19, 2004).
Like Chandler, Kaucher says he has an obligation to the residents to see that bylaws are upheld. Moreover, those who move to Winterhaven know what they are getting into.
But conservationists have long held that Winterhaven is an obdurate anachronism that can no longer be allowed to over-pump water. Winterhaven residents use nearly double the 150 gallons per day used by the average Tucsonan. The must-use water policy and green, Great Lakes-style landscape fly in the face of conservation measures by the city and new drought plans being developed by a committee serving Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano.
Kaucher says he doesn't sense any external pressure.
Manton-Jones is motivated by conservation. She used the issue to tap into Vice Mayor Fred Ronstadt's new push for water conservation.
In an Oct. 8 memo to Ronstadt, a Republican, Manton-Jones noted that Winterhaven conditions, covenants and restrictions state: "that if a more restrictive policy is in place at the city, county or state level, then such restrictions apply," including limits on non-native plants.
"However, as much as we talk about drought and 'Beat the Peak' (the city conservation campaign), there is nothing in place legislatively to protect me from being punished for not using water in my neighborhood. I have tried to be conscientious in this matter and I would prefer to have no grass as other properties in Winterhaven do," Manton-Jones told Ronstadt.
Until stronger measures are in place, she wrote, "people like the Winterhaven board will justify using 'our own water,' which taps the common aquifer, to force people to have lawns so we can all pretend we're in Cleveland without the inconvenience of snow."