A Riverside man whose colorful hibiscus plants, planted in the public parkway in front of his home in the 300 block of Desplaines Avenue, succumbed to the demands of the village and pulled them up last week, he informed village trustees on Oct. 17.
Ed Buck said he decided to dig up the plants, which he said delighted neighbors and passersby for the past five years, after Village President Ben Sells indicated to him that the village board was unlikely to contradict village staffs’ directive, which was based on the village’s code.
Buck said he contacted Sells directly, wondering if he could wait until he could at least make his case to let the plants remain in the parkway before the village board.
“The response I got was: ‘In all the years I’ve never seen the board object against the findings of our employees,'” Buck said during a roughly 10-minute statement at the Oct. 17 meeting of the village board.
With that message sent, Buck told the Landmark, he decided to pull up the plants the day before the meeting. He’s hoping to find another spot on his property to plant them.
“I took them out as carefully as possible,” he said. “They’re resting comfortably in a wheelbarrow.”
Buck, a 30-year resident of the village and a keen gardener and tree collector whose backyard is a veritable forest of conifer and other species, said he planted the hibiscus plants in front of his Desplaines Avenue home five years ago.
“For five years people have enjoyed them, myself included,” Buck said. “I saw it as a gift to the village to make the parkway look nice.”
This summer, Buck received a letter from Public Works Director Edward Bailey, informing Buck that the parkway plants were in violation of the village’s code regarding planting in the parkway. Bailey’s letter was sparked by an anonymous complaint.
The code states, in part, that any plantings in the parkway must be done by or approved by the village. A list of herbaceous plants that are prohibited by the code does not call out hibiscus plants specifically, although a village-published 2006 guide to planting in Riverside states “plantings having vivid colors or of an exotic nature” should be avoided.
In addition to the flowers themselves, which grew to about 4-feet tall, Buck also used wooden stakes and wire cages to support the stems.
In August, Buck appeared before the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission to appeal the village’s order to remove the parkway plants or to pay for their removal by the village. The commission directed Buck to the village board.
In his statement to the village board last week, Buck argued that the village’s code regarding approved plants was “ambiguous” and said the village ought to employ a process where residents feel they have a fighting chance of prevailing. While he was invited to bring his concerns to the village board, Buck said he felt like he was facing a solid wall of opposition from the board, staff and village commissions.
“It’s like a door that says ‘welcome, please come in’ with two guard dogs that will bite you if you come near it,” Buck said.
Sells, in a phone interview with the Landmark, said he didn’t want to set a precedent where residents can simply go over the head of staff to the village board to overturn enforcement issues.
“In my email to him, I said there was a process. If he wanted to advocate for a change to the village’s policy, he could do that and see if he can get any traction,” Sells said. “But we’re certainly not going to overturn staff and change an ordinance in the midst of a violation. His best route would be to come into compliance and, if wanted to facilitate a change in the ordinance, that’s his right as a resident.
“We’re going to stand behind staff or they lose the ability to enforce the code.”