Champaign City Council moves to ban specific type of bamboo

By Angelica Lavito

Residents’ right to grow bamboo in their lawns was up for debate at Tuesday’s Champaign City Council meeting. 

Champaign resident Martha Mills complained that her neighbor’s bamboo plant invaded her property and is difficult to manage or remove.

In response, the Champaign City Council voted 6-1 to move forward to ban running bamboo and to create provisions for those who already have bamboo plants. Council members Will Kyles and Tom Bruno were absent for the vote. 

“I went by there today; I got out and walked,” said Council Member Vic McIntosh, District 3. “If I lived next door, I would be cutting some of it down. It’s horrendous, the way it looks. It’s just terrible.”

David Oliver, neighborhood code compliance manager, researched bamboo plants and presented his findings to City Council. He explained that bamboo can be categorized as “running” or “clumping.”

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    Running bamboo is cold, hardy and very invasive, according to the study session report. Oliver added that it is resistant to herbicides. This can create a problem because it is harder to manage than clumping bamboo, which has roots that are incapable of expanding more than a few inches a year. 

    “Bamboo grows differently than most plants that grow in our yard,” Oliver said. “When you look at bamboo you might look at it as a bamboo forest, but it’s actually one plant.”

    Oliver showed the photographs of bamboo-grower Dmitri Novikov’s house, 704 W. Colombia Ave., to show the council examples of the running bamboo, which led City Council to consider regulating it in Champaign. One picture illustrated how the bamboo is beginning to encroach on a public sidewalk. Another showed the bamboo beginning to engulf a shed.

    Also shown was a comparison between one photo of the property from 2008, where there is no bamboo present. A 2014 photograph shows how quickly running bamboo grows, as the plant is nearly as tall as the building. 

    “All of the pictures show bamboo growing on my property, not on his,” said Novikov, whose bamboo plants are under fire. “It grows up to 14 feet, but it can be trimmed.”

    Multiple Champaign residents addressed the council to show their support for bamboo. One couple explained how they use a barrier to contain their bamboo so it does not become invasive, which led City Council to allow those who already have the plant and properly contain it, to keep it, despite the ban. 

    City staff reached out to experts, who agreed with the need to ban running bamboo because of the difficulty in containing it, which can pose a problem to landowners. 

    No other communities in Illinois have regulations regarding bamboo, according to the study session report. City staff will develop an ordinance to regulate running bamboo that will be voted on at a later meeting.

    “Although this is personal for us, we really think this will be an issue for other citizens in the future and we look forward to some sort of policy to control this,” said Eric Burton, Novikov’s neighbor.

    Angelica can be reached at [email protected].