Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New Castle County Council considers pollinator and rain garden ordinance to exempt from property maintenance code

Delaware Public Media

New Castle County’s Land Use Committee is considering an ordinance to exempt rain and pollinator gardens from the county property maintenance code.

The current county code does not address pollinators and rain gardens, and residents who have them are fighting off neighborhood complaints and code enforcement.

The proposed ordinance says to be classified as a pollinator or rain garden, the yard must contain at least two pollinator-friendly species from the native plan list maintained by DNREC, which include milkweed, bush clover, and various wildflowers.

Assistant Land Use Manager Joseph Day says native gardens have numerous environmental benefits.

"Rain gardens can contribute to water quantity and quality by collecting and infiltrating surface runoff on a smaller scale, collectively impacting the overall health of our watershed," Day says. "Reduced, or ideally eliminated use of pesticides and herbicides and curating landscapes that create food sources and habitat for native pollinator species are important impacts that we can accomplish."

Maintenance standards in the ordinance include defining what is and is not a pollinator or rain garden – and the ordinance states the gardens cannot constitute a hazard to surrounding areas or harbor pests and rodents.

“The garden is required to be delineated with edging and must comply with the defined setbacks," Day says, detailing proposed size and border restrictions. "So from the primary building, the setback would be three feet, from the street yard it would be ten feet, from the rear yard, three feet.”

But Newark resident Alex Zorach - creator of plant ecology website - says the setback requirements are too strict. They argue requiring a three-foot setback from the property line and banning gardens in side yards hinders creating a rain garden.

“All of the best practices I’ve seen have said you really need to have a rain garden at least 10 feet away from the building," Zorach says. "Ad to me it seems very backward to be worrying a lot about aesthetics when you’re not worrying about really serious things like property damage that can result from building a rain garden too close to a house.”

Delaware Invasive Species Council Vice Chair Leah Brooks agrees those requirements are too restrictive for other reasons.

“I see no reason not to allow such a garden to cover nearly 100 percent of a lot, so long as it is trimmed not to encroach sidewalks or restrict visibility," Brooks says. "And I do think that people who own small townhomes with only a little amount of front yard space between their house and the street, it's all they can get to help those pollinators. We all want to help the bees, help the butterflies, and I think that in the way it is written right now, a lot of pollinator gardens would be out of compliance. Including my own."

Council will consider the ordinance on April 9 but could introduce an amendment or substitution to address concerns from public comment.

Rachel Sawicki was born and raised in Camden, Delaware and attended the Caesar Rodney School District. They graduated from the University of Delaware in 2021 with a double degree in Communications and English and as a leader in the Student Television Network, WVUD and The Review.