The Tussle Over Topiaries

Can a statue-loving Beverly Drive resident fight town hall?

Citations from the town of Highland Park thus far have failed to prompt Jane Benedum to remove any statues, sculptures, pots, or planters from her yard in the 4500 block of Beverly Drive.

However, she has added a decoration: a handmade sign asking people to “please help save my yard” and call Highland Park code enforcement.

“You go, girl!” shouted a passerby recently as Benedum stood outside, answering a reporter’s questions about this tussle over topiaries.

And go is what Benedum plans to do. “All the way to the Supreme Court” if necessary.

 “I’ve got time, (and) I’ve got gumption,” she quipped. “It’s still America; it’s still Texas.”

Benedum said she was first notified in September that her yard ran afoul of a new ordinance passed in August. It stipulates that decorations like those displayed in front of her home must occupy 5% or less of the yard area.

She appeared at municipal court on Dec. 7 and requested a jury trial, but no date was set as of our publication.

The daughter of J. Claxton Benedum and great-niece of wildcatter Michael Benedum, Jane, who grew up in East Texas, accumulated the collection of potted topiaries, statues, fountains, and more in various ways. Some she acquired herself; some were passed down from family members.

Minutes published from a July study session discussion of the ordinance, though, note “town staff has recently received several complaints regarding the excessive number of decorative items, such as landscape receptacles, planters, topiaries, and statuaries, located in the front yards of residential properties.”

Highland Park Mayor Margo Goodwin hadn’t returned calls requesting comment before press time.

Some residents support Benedum’s efforts to keep her yard decor, while others see the ordinance as helpful for maintaining attractive landscaping in the neighborhood. Here are a few examples:

  • “The town should be able to create an ordinance or regulations that create consistency and protect the value of all landowners,” one respondent to an unscientific poll conducted by People Newspapers wrote. “Personal taste and preferences are difficult to regulate. The town should have a responsibility to protect and maintain the traditions and values that are best for all members of the town.”
  • “Though I don’t live in HP, I drive by or walk by this home on Beverly multiple times a week. I appreciate the whimsy and would hate to see it go. If the immediate neighbors are OK with the display, then I don’t see why it should be anyone else’s business,” another responded. “And if the immediate neighbors are not OK with the display, I believe they should speak with Ms. Benedum directly – I bet a compromise could be reached. The ordinance is clearly targeting this particular yard, and that’s not how legislation is supposed to work. I wish Ms. Benedum good luck on her lawsuit to become ‘grandfathered’ in as a nonconforming use.”
  • “I like the ordinance going forward, but she should be grandfathered by existing rules,” another resident responded.

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at [email protected]

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