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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

County budget would end enforcement of grass ordinance



The owner of this healthy lawn received a warning from a community association.
Local lawns could be a lot messier next year, if the Board of Supervisors agrees with a budget recommendation to eliminate enforcement of the grass ordinance. Some neighborhood groups are concerned that could lead to declining property values, deteriorating quality of life, and the proliferation of rodents and snakes.

In an attempt to trim costs from Fairfax County’s $3.8 billion bloated budget, County Executive Ed Long is looking at dropping a number of small programs that together could add up to big savings. Other proposed cuts with an impact on Annandale residents would be the closure of the Annandale Adult Day Care Center and reduced bathroom maintenance at Green Spring Gardens.

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 persons tall grass is somebody elses 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.

23 comments:

  1. At first I thought this was an attempt at pot legalization..

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  2. when does Gross ever take a stance on anything?

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    1. Please, the supervisor has made her positions very clear as they pertain to immigration issues and over-crowding in Mason District.

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    2. I have yet to see those positions posted on this blog.

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    3. she will take an anti immigration stance right before the election if she is behind and will do a photo op helping round some people up in Culmore. Remember this post.

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  3. What the heck is a "seasonal engineering technician". Send someone out with a ruler. Tell the owner that they need to cut their grass. That will do the trick.
    Enforcing laws is a cornerstone function of a government. The grass ordinance is a perfectly reasonable law. Penny Gross can take her "lovely meadow" comparison, and shove it up her &#(!@&. Many people in Mason District care about their neighborhoods being reasonably kept up, and we are tired of feeling completely unrepresented by her.

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  4. I was confused by the caption under the photo at the top of this post which reads, "The owner of this healthy lawn received a warning from a community association."

    I may be missing something obvious, but my question is why did the owner of a healthy lawn receive a warning from a community association?

    The lawn does not appear overgrown or unkept.

    Would you please explain why this owner received a warning by a community association.

    Thank you.

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    1. It doesn't look bad, but a ruler showed some of the grass is more than 12 inches. It's actually my yard a couple of years ago - it's not easy taking pictures of tall grass this time of year.

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    2. If many of the lawns in my neighborhood looked that good I would be thankful. This is not a good example of a non-compliant resident.

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  5. It is sad to watch what was once a great county go into such decline and unnecessarily. Guess because they could not keep the median strips grass cut the BOS figured they should just let the entire place go to hell.........one big tall grass meadow to cover up all the renters' vehicles parked on their front lawns.

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  6. Do I have to grow grass? I need to turn my front yard into a veggie patch. Then I can have a stand inside my lot like that house on Annandale Road.

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  7. Corn, and rows of it, seem to be a frequent choice.

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  8. $120,000 is nothing... a drop in the bucket. This is the game governments play. They cut popular, high profile programs that cost very little to "punish" their constituents for daring to complain about their taxes going up. Reducing library hours is another example of this ploy.

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  9. Where do Penny's primary election opponents stand on this issue? Does she support this law? Will Jessica Swanson support cutting funding to schools to help fund enforcement for this? Or would she proposed raising taxes?

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    1. Jessica Swanson participates in an organization that advocates "fully funding" the schools. That's double speak for running up taxes to provide every conceivable amenity anyone can dream up.

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  10. the school system commands more than 50% of our tax dollars to serve about 30% of the county's population. I would like some of my tax dollars to support efforts to to maintain and improve the quality of all county residents. And frankly, I would be willing to pay more in taxes if I knew they weren't all going to be sucked up by the school system.

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    1. FCPS' asinine response to this is something along the lines of - "people don't move to a county for police or parks. They move to a county for good schools. So therefore, we deserve most of the budget."

      Which is so ridiculously false. People like nice parks, good transportation, and a solid police force. 100% of county residents use some form of transportation, and we are abysmally behind in that department.

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    2. Transportation improvements and parks are critical, but it should be noted that good public schools benefit everybody, not just students and parents: Good schools have a positive impact on property values, for one thing, and companies want well-educated employees. Well-educated citizens are better able to contribute to the economy and less likely to need costly social services.

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    3. ^^^ Good points. Saying spending on schools only benefits students is like saying roads only benefit those who drive on them.

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    4. Excellent points, Ellie!

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    5. Great point Ellie!

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  11. Another service cut so Penny can build a human services palace somewhere.

    Annandale Senior Center: cut. Code enforcements: cut. Buildings UP!

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