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Monday, October 15, 2012

When it comes to cleaning up VDOT property, no good deed goes unpunished



You might think if a community comes together and spends countless hours cleaning a small plot of public land, that would be a good thing, right? It’s a great example of people putting in some sweat equity to improve their neighborhood.

The Virginia Department of Transportation doesn’t think so.

The site in question is on land owned by VDOT in a Mason District neighborhood that the citizens association doesn’t want us to identify until the issue is resolved. It had been completely overgrown and had become a dumping ground for old Christmas trees and trash. A fire hydrant was hidden from view, and the overgrowth had encroached on the sidewalk, forcing kids walking to school to walk in the street. It was unsafe, as well as an eyesore.

About a year ago, local residents pitched in, donating their own time and money over several months of weekends to clear out the underbrush, pick up trash, remove invasive plants, and put down mulch. It didn’t occur to the residents that they needed a permit from VDOT.

When VDOT officials found out, they directed the neighborhood group to submit the required paperwork and put up a $10,000 surety bond to make sure the work is completed correctly. The bond would be returned, in theory, when the work is done, but getting the bond meant someone has to be personally liable and the group would have to pay an insurance company $250 to issue the bond.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood would have to submit a planting plan to VDOT. The plants must be native species, salt resistant, and drought tolerant. If VDOT approves the plan, it would send inspectors to the site to ensure the plantings comply with the plan, and the neighborhood would have to agree to maintain the property in perpetuity. The permit fee is $100 plus $10 per 100 feet of frontage. And there is lots of paperwork involved.

These requirements are stated on VDOT’s website, but the community members who spent so much energy on this project don’t feel they should have to be penalized for doing a good deed.

And if you think VDOT won’t follow up, you’re wrong. Volunteers in the same neighborhood had landscaped another small piece of property several years earlier—they had a VDOT permit for that project—and now they have to remove non-native plantings that were added later.  

So while it took VDOT more than a week to plow the streets in that neighborhood after a snowstorm and fails to keep the grass mowed in median strips, it has plenty of energy to go after a community association that is trying to make some improvements.

The whole situation is not only souring that community on future plans to improve the neighborhood, it’s likely to discourage other volunteers from attempting clean-up projects.

32 comments:

  1. Would be interesting to know what plants the residents planted that were not native to Virginia and posed such a problem that it is actually worth removing them. I don't imagine they planted kudzu...

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  2. Cannot help but wonder if anyone in the office of our Mason Dist Supervisor who deals with VDOT might be of assistance, or has that already been attempted? Just a thought.

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    1. If this has been going on for a year, Penny Gross must know about it. I cannot believe that she would allow VDOT to do this in her District.

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  3. In which neighborhood or civic association did this occur? Also given that VDOT is a state agency, should the state senator and/or delegate who covers this neighborhood be also alerted to this?

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    1. This cannot be for real ?????? Where is this neighborhood?

      VDOT really knows how to make friends, sounds like David and Goliath are visiting Mason District. This is a abuse of government!

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  4. VDOT should be ashamed of themselves for acting like some bullies that you would find in some third world communist dictatorship. Instead of helping with the process it appears that the VDOT and the FFX government have become party to abusing its citizens. So much for good and honest government in FFX County. The only thing VDOT stands for is "Very Demoralizing Obtuse Tactics!"

    Where do these VDOT cronies live? Let them pay the $10K fee out of their over inflated pensions, supplied by the same people they are recklessly extorting.

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  5. If this has been going on for a year, Penny Gross must know about it. I cannot believe that she would allow VDOT to do this in her District.

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  6. By all means we should keep Mason District looking like a trash heap. Why isnt the Mason District supervisor helping residents. I guess they think VDOT must crack down on residents' beautification efforts. Residents might be getting out of hand. Who knows this nefarious activity might spread to other neighborhoods. What's wrong with this picture?

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  7. Fixing problems like this only takes common sense. Matters like this issue can be frustrating. Give the power back to the people.. no more over-controlling big government bureaucracy!

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  8. Penny is squarely behind VDOT and squarely against her constituents. This comes as no surprise to me.

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  9. How about all of you who are so outraged, send Penny a message:
    penny.gross@fairfaxcounty.gov

    Otherwise we are just singing to the choir.

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  10. So what about our elected state officials?? The VDOT budget is approved by state legislators in Richmond, it makes much more sense to get the state senator and state delegate who cover this area and who vote and control VDOT's budget involved. Have the hold VDOT's feet to the fire.

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  11. So one question, and one comment:

    1) The neighborhood in question got a permit from VDOT for their first planting, but not for the 2nd planting (which is the focus of the above story). If the neighborhood knew they needed a permit, why didn't they apply for one from the start?

    2) It seems the the issue is not the fact the neighborhood weeded and cleaned up the property (which is awesome that the neighbood did that) but instead the issue is with the plantings they put on VDOT property. While I in no way defend VDOT, I understand why VDOT doesn't want folks just planting anything on VDOT property or state right-of-way.

    So I applaud the neighborhood for their initiative, I scorn VDOT for their inflexibility and stupidty, but I think we need to look at the bigger picture here which is whether or not it is appropriate to plant something on VDOT property without first getting permission. Discuss...

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    1. 1) Good point. I heard that there was a change of membership within the association there without complete knowledge transfer. Neighborhood knew a planting plan would be necessary, not that removing trash, debris and the invasive weeds would require pre-approval. Plan was to submit plan after clearing area. Of course it's understandable that VDOT doesn't want folks randomly doing whatever they want on VDOT property, cleaning or otherwise.
      2) There were no new plantings on the property in question. The article refers to new plantings on a different plot for which a plan existed. Basically anytime ANYTHING is done to property a neighborhood assumes responsibility for a VDOT parcel of land, a new plan is required. VDOT wants to police the land but wants to give up ALL liability to the neighborhood. Something about that stinks since VDOT has control over what is planted (allegedly). VDOT had ugly property and full liability first, it's then beautified by an asociation and VDOT uses that opportunity to vacate legal responsibility? What's the worse that can happen, it gets overgrown again and we're back to the pre-beautification state? VDOT is a monster org with by comparison deep pockets, why throw all that liability on a neighborhood as a "reward" for doing a good deed? The question I also have is does that new plan also require a new $10K bond? How are neighborhoods supposed to provide $10K every time they want to beautify their neighborhood, since that usually means changing either County or VDOT land. VDOT used to give waivers for the bond in an effort to work with neighborhoods. My understanding is that they did this previously with the neighborhood in question. Now they've taken a hard line and require the 10K bond? A waiver would be something you'd hope the representative could broker. Otherwise who would ever try to change VDOT land or maybe that's the point.....

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  12. I appreciate what you are driving at. There need to be standards. However, the true property owners are the state's taxpayers. VDOT is the delegated steward, who doesn't do a very good job in a lot of instances. This being one of them. Seems to me slapping the people who step in and do the job you should be doing is quite shabby behavior.

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  13. This is simply outragous and I hope that the Annandale Blog does not let this one go and ratchets it up to the highest government officials who aren't listening and should.

    Not only is VDOT's conduct blatantly irresponsible, its government sanctioned blackmail!

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    1. I agree. I hope the Annandale Blog will do a followup blog. Is this normal that citizens have to put up a $10,000 bond to work on a patch of VDOT property?

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    2. Used to be VDOT had option to provide waiver for $10,000 bond. Our association has received this waiver before. However, it appears in this case they're unwilling to waiver the bond and I've heard that now VDOT will not allow any waivers. That's really stupid. The bond should be intelligently applied. If VDOT approves the planting plan before it happens then they should be able to assess whether $10K is reasonable. I could see maybe $1K if VDOT wants protection but most associations barely stay solvent, let alone have thousands of dollars laying around to use to apply to surety bonds. Very strange behavior by VDOT even if the neighborhood group in this case didn't perfectly follow the rules. Sounds like folks not willing to think outside of the box.

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  14. It appears that no state or local official has any control over the Unitied Kingdom of VDOT. You should see the new NOVA headquaters (palace) they built for themselve while the rest of the state suffers from broken down roads. I guess they need to slap ordinary citizens and neighborhoods with hefty fees to pay for their new facility.

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  15. Penny Gross is who reported our neighborhood to VDOT for pulling weeds. She did not bother communicating with VDOT while we were snowed in for SEVERAL days - but on this "weed issue" she spared no time in reporting to VDOT.

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    1. Seriously?? I really doubt that. Please provide evidence. Also what neighborhood are you in?

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    2. It is true that Penny did report this neighborhood because of her animosity toward certain members who live there who have spoken out against her for other things. This is a classic Penny move. Perhaps you have not lived in Penny's Mason Nation for very long...

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    3. Really-how do you know, we ask again -- and why is it such a big secret about identifying the neighborhood. Come on Ms. Annandale Blog - what's the name?

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    4. The civic association is still engaged with VDOT on this issue and does not want negative publicity to harm its chances for a good outcome.

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  16. A surety bond is a promise: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surety_bond#Public_Official_Bonds

    How much is the $10,000 surety bond actually going to cost? That is, what is the premium that needs to be paid or can the neighborhood association write an IOU.

    Are you sure that the land in question is owned by VDOT? People often confuse the VDOT right-of-way with easements.

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  17. I cannot imagine that Penny Gross would use this unfortunate VDOT incident to retaliate against any one of her constituents.

    However, VDOT is a problem, they act without accountability. They are not a good neighbor, and they make an even worse landlord. They penalize people for taking care of the property that VDOT has flagrantly failed to do. The NOVA VDOT representative that has enacted this levy against this community’s good shepherd is acting with impunity and has more than likely ignored and disregarded the advisement of our elected officials. This kind of arrogance does not belong in Fairfax County and does not encourage neighborhood revitalization, which is so necessary in older subdivisions. This attitude creates foes rather than partners for the caretaking of our communities. It belies the public’s trust and respect for government employees.

    The blog should forward this discussion to the governor. I would like very much to hear the governor’s take on this rogue state employee who rather dictate than serve the public that supports his employ.

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  18. I hope that the Civic Association of this community can persuade VDOT officials that they are hurting their trust with communities that are struggling to improve the lives of many and not just bureaucratic malarkey. If the VDOT he/she is reading this blog and has a soul I would hope that they would come around to being a human first and a good citizen of our historically respected County.

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  19. Oh please..give me a break. Penny did not report a neighborhood for pulling weeds on VDOT property. You are either severely paranoid, or blinded by partisan politics - either way, please provide evidence for your claim.

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  20. Actually, she did and there is evidence. However, my impression is in her role she is obligated to report anything she thinks might damage her community. Question is whether she researched the situation properly before involving VDOT and whether she followed up afterwards to ensure proper resolution. I don't think they've heard from her since right after the first reporting.

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  21. My understanding is the bond estimate cost is $200 to $300, the "premium". Absolutely the land is owned by VDOT. Why do you think VDOT is involved after Penny notified them? If it's not privately owned it's either VDOT or Fairfax County. This is VDOT.

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  22. Stepped back off a curb and hit by a vehicle, bitten by a Snapping Turtle, a bite from a poisonous spider, a nasty case of Poisonous Oak. Some are aware some of the time but not all, all of the time. VDOT rules and regulations please! For the idiots, or the know it alls.. Thanks VDOT.

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  23. Perhaps the next time citizens see neglected property they should contact the Governor and Senator and ask for action. If that fails there is always the media. I support the citizens who banded together to clean up the area. I live next to such a mess, have tried to clean it up on my own, did not realize I was breaking any rules, but now that I know I will pursue other action. Overgrowth etc. invites dumping and does not help with property values. VDOT needs more staff and if the Governor and Senator get enough complaints perhaps they will find some funds to rehire those laid off over the last few years.

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