mantz debary home yard
IN HIS FOREST — William Mantz is pictured here standing amid the many plants that grow in the front and back yard of his DeBary home.

A year after the City of DeBary began charging resident William Mantz $500 a day for not trimming plants in his yard, the retiree’s fine is nearly $200,000 — and maybe more by the time you read this.

Now, a well-known environmental attorney and the head of a Central Florida nonprofit are telling the city to leave Mantz be.

The city said Mantz’s landscape of native Florida plants is nothing more than too-tall weeds. Environmental attorney Lesley Blackner — like Mantz — wants to help Floridians see the value in rethinking our lawns.

“I’m really hoping that DeBary can be a leader on helping us make this rapid transition to planting for nature; turning our lawns into a home for nature, instead of destroying nature and creating dead zones, which is what we have now,” Blackner told The Beacon. “That’s my hope, and I hope they will just lay off Mr. Mantz.”

Blackner, who now lives in Tallahassee, gained a local name for herself in the late 1990s when she helped challenge Volusia County’s rules governing driving vehicles on its beaches. Arguing the county should be doing more to protect sea turtles, she played a pivotal role in closing a stretch of the local beach to cars.

She wants to see DeBary adopt new land-development regulations that don’t penalize residents for growing natural plants at heights taller than people are used to. 

Mantz, who lives at 12 DeBary Drive, initially came under fire from the city several years ago after other DeBary residents, including one of his neighbors, complained about his — in their minds — overgrown yard. 

While Mantz and the city came to an agreement at one point about some of his plants — and he reluctantly paid a $1,250 fine to reconcile the differences — he clashed with the city again when more complaints flowed in. 

Mantz was told if he cut some of the plants in his yard, including patches of Florida-native spiderwort and biden’s alba growing near his mailbox, the code-enforcement case would end. He refused, citing his righteous battle to protect the environment. 

“That’s my goal,” Mantz told The Beacon. “To save what God has given us.”

Since Sept. 9, 2021, Mantz’s tab at City Hall has been charged $500 per day by the City of DeBary. As of Oct. 11, 2022, that fine is now $198,500 with an added one-time $250 administrative fee. Plus, the city has filed the legal paperwork to put a lien on his home.

Katrina Shadix, the founder of the nonprofit organization Bear Warriors United, has also been paying attention to Mantz’s ongoing battle with DeBary. She visited the Mantz home with Blackner. Where some see weeds and overgrowth, they see a biodiverse wildlife habitat.

“We went to see his yard, and it was beautifully native,” she told The Beacon. “His neighbors’ yards were dead zones.”

Bear Warriors United works with people in Central Florida to promote native pollinator gardens and peaceful coexistence with nature. Shadix, who lives in Geneva, is also running for a seat on the Seminole County Commission.

“I would say that being in Seminole County and running for a government position,” Shadix said, “I do not approve of taxpayers’ money being used to send a code-enforcement person out to yell at a poor old guy about his flowers when there’s so many other things that need enforcement.”

Since The Beacon spoke with Mantz in June, he has not had any contact with DeBary City Hall, but his fine continues to grow. While he occasionally trims back pieces of his lawn — specifically, the very grass the City of DeBary wishes he would cultivate — he’s proud of what some see as too overgrown. He regularly sees bees and other critters.

“We think we know everything, and we dominate to the detriment of everything,” Mantz told The Beacon

He continued, referring to nature, “When we kill this, we kill ourselves.”

Beyond responses to records requests submitted by The Beacon, the City of DeBary declined to comment on Mantz or his yard. 

A spokesperson for the city said Blackner, representing Mantz, had been in contact with the city’s lawyer. Blackner, however, said no legal proceedings had been filed against DeBary.


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