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.
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.