Grand Forks lawyer takes stand for freedom to grow ‘weeds’

Henry Howe, an attorney and owner of spot of land in the city’s downtown, is letting goatsbeard flowers grow because that’s what he likes.

Who’s to say he can’t? The Grand Forks Health Department, which has ordered him to mow the land.

“If I didn’t want them to look that way, I would have a mowed them,” he tells the Grand Forks Herald. “It’s not that I’m lazy or didn’t look out the window or those things. I like having the wildflowers there. … There’s some odds and ends in there. That’s OK.”

“The grass is long, and is thereby a violation of city code,” Javin Bedard, of the Health Department, says.

The department says if Howe doesn’t cut the grass and flowers, it will and it’ll charge $150 to do so.

“Unless you have some valid authority … that these are ‘weeds,’ they are going to stay on my property until the end of the season,” Howe wrote in response to Bedard’s demand, the Herald says.

Contacted by phone on Wednesday, Howe said he would prefer Health Department officials issue him a citation, allowing him to argue the point in court—he pointed out that “charges” are listed as a result of some ordinance violations on the initial letter—to more clearly define exactly what the ordinance means. Right now, he said, the ordinance seems like it could be applied more or less arbitrarily, which he said is unconstitutional, and he wondered about the legality of ornamental plants in front of several other buildings in the city.

But the Health Department responded differently. In a letter dated July 6, Bedard said the Health Department had determined the area should be mowed regularly.

“If you care to grow flowers at the business, please do so in a flower bed that is maintained free of long grass, and not on the city berm,” Bedard wrote in the letter. He added in a phone interview that the department’s recent letter reflects the typical means by which these matters are resolved.

Howe has until July 13 to mow the berm. The order does not affect a row of plants in a raised dirt enclosure along the side of the office.

It’s an ongoing problem in Grand Forks. The Health Department says in June alone, it fielded more than 100 complaints about unmowed grass.