Miami Shores

Plastic flamingos are OK, but veggie garden is not: A front-yard legal battle

Lawyers in court on Wednesday dug deep into the roots of the great vegetable garden debate.

On one side, Miami Shores homeowner Tom Carroll, who was ordered by the village to uproot his wife’s beloved front-yard garden or face fines of up to $50 a day. That’s unconstitutional, his lawyer told a judge — everything from fruit trees to plastic flamingos are allowed otherwise.

“It’s quite common and frequent that ornamental plants, which are legal in Miami Shores, are completely indistinguishable from edible plants — which are illegal,” their lawyer, Ari Bargil, told the judge.

On the other side: the close-knit, upscale Northeast Miami-Dade village, which insists it has every right to regulate the aesthetics of the community. Vegetable gardens are just fine, as long as they remain out of sight in the backyard, village attorney Richard Sarafan told the judge.

“There is no vegetable ban in Miami Shores,” Sarafan said. “It’s a farce. A ruse.”

Circuit Judge Monica Gordo will issue a ruling in the coming weeks in a battle over the right to front-yard farming that began three years ago.

For 17 years, Carroll’s wife, Hermine Ricketts, tended to the yard, carefully growing okra, kale, lettuce, onions, spinach and a dozen or more varieties of Asian cabbage. Then, in 2013, an apparent complaint from a neighbor led the village to a crackdown on the couple.

Carroll and Ricketts sued after the village squashed their front-yard farming. The city’s laws outline what is permissible on all green space — grass, sod, low-growing plants that completely cover an area — and makes an exception for backyard vegetable gardens.

The argument for regulating neighborhood aesthetics is not a new one in South Florida. Coral Gables used to have an ordinance prohibiting residents from parking pickup trucks in their own driveways at night.

The couple teamed up with the Institute for Justice, a non-profit libertarian law firm, which filed the suit for them. They sued for only $1 —the main goal is to be allowed to again grow their own veggies.

“Come by when we win the case,” Carroll told reporters after the hearing, “eggplants on us.”