|The owner of this healthy lawn received a warning from a community association.|
The advertised budget for 2016 would save $120,000 by discontinuing enforcement of the grass ordinance. That’s part of Long’s effort to close an $89 million shortfall caused in part by reduced revenue from commercial real estate taxes and a generally sluggish economy throughout the region.
The grass ordinance requires grass on residential plots of a half-acre or less to be no taller than 12 inches. When the Department of Code Compliance (DCC) receives a complaint about tall grass, it sends “seasonal engineering technicians” to look at the lawn and educate the property owner.
The DCC receives approximately 1,800 grass complaints a year, equitably distributed among the nine magisterial districts, the budget document states. Approximately 15 percent of the complaints lead to additional concerns about health, safety, or property maintenance issues.
In most cases, the property owner voluntarily complies. If the owner fails to cut the grass, the county takes care of it and sends the owner a bill of at least $165. If enforcement is eliminated, DCC would send letters to offending homeowners but there would be no follow up.
The Mason District Council of Community Associations has not taken a position on the proposal to eliminate the grass ordinance, but several other neighborhood groups have.
The North Springfield Civic Association, for example, passed a resolution calling for continuation of enforcement, calling the grass ordinance “one of the most visible services that residents use to gauge the county’s commitment to quality of life issues like clean, safe neighborhoods.” Ending enforcement would threaten property values, the resolution states, and would encourage neglectful behavior.
The Braddock District Council of Community Associations has not taken a position because many of the group’s members are HOAs, which enforce their own rules on lawn care, said BDC Chair Cliff Keenan. He’s also heard from several members that agree with the need to cut county expenses and avoid tax increases.
For civic associations without enforcement authority, the grass ordinance is their only recourse to ensure homeowners maintain their property, Keenan said. There’s also the concern that unkempt lawns will lead to the spread of rats, mice, snakes, and vermin.
Even Long acknowledged the impact, noting in the budget document, “Uncut grass is an early indicator of potentially larger health and safety issues.”
According to Long, “the principal intent of the program is the maintenance of quality of life and neighborhood integrity.” Eliminating enforcement means DCC “will be unable to perform inspections or contract to have violating properties mowed.”
Mason Supervisor Penny Gross hasn’t decided where she stands on the grass ordinance, according to an article in the Washington Post. “There are those who say, ‘I want to live how I want to live, and leave me alone,’ ” she told the Post. “One person’s tall grass is somebody else’s lovely meadow.”
Public hearings on the advertised budget take place April 7-9 at the Fairfax County Government Center. The Board of Supervisors will mark up the budget on April 21 and approve a final budget on April 28. The 2016 fiscal year begins July 1.