Cape Coral City Council had numerous questions Monday about whether to allow the installation of artificial turf in private yards and on commercial grounds.
Councilmember Kevin McGrail said two area businesses, Cape Christian Fellowship and the Pet Corral, have installed FieldTurf, a newer form of artificial surface that has more of a feel as natural grass than the artificial surfaces of the past. Those had the feel of carpeted cement and were susceptible to mold, stink, and intense heat in the summer, according to their critics.
"The newer products have been better received by the businesses that have tried them," McGrail said "Cape Christian liked it so much they're putting in more."
Indeed, the popularity of the turf has increased. All Collier County football stadiums have installed it and it has become the field of choice for many college and pro teams for its ease in maintenance.
Council members still had questions - and comments on whether the issue even warranted the time needed to do the research.
Chris Chulakes-Leetz said he wasn't willing to use staff time to consider such an ordinance when it would not take time to change an ordinance that prohibits commercial vehicles from being parked in their home driveways.
Currently, artificial turf isn't banned, but strictly regulated, City Attorney Dolores Menendez said. Only 20 percent of a lawn can be artificial, and it cannot be used in a front yard, unless you get a variance, which Cape Christian Fellowship did.
Councilmember John Carioscia commented that it's still hotter than natural grass and had concerns what would happen in the event of a hurricane.
Councilmember Rana Erbrick had concerns about potential chemical runoff and if the turf might impact flooding, since she believed the rainwater would all run into the canals instead of leaching into the ground.
Mayor John Sullivan also wanted to know how it would hold up in yards with swales.
The two industry experts said that not only did Erbrick and Carioscia need not worry about most of their points (though they said the turf does get hot in direct sunlight and they would prefer to install on flat surfaces), but that it would help both the economy and the environment.
"This will create jobs in the area and cut some people's water usage in half," one said. "We have people in St. Pete who pay $300 a month watering their lawns. In a few years they get the return on their investment."
That investment is steep, however.
The cost for an average lawn is about $50,000. But for those who pride themselves in having a lush, green lawn, the elimination of water usage would mitigate the cost over the expected 20-25 year lifespan of the surface.
City manager John Szerlag said he would give staff the assignment and instruct other departments to give their input.
"This isn't a sales pitch. Just a test of its validity," McGrail said.