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Local Resident Creates Petition to Save Sidewalk Garden

by Heather Mongilio August 28, 2015 at 3:00 pm 2,530 0

A garden in front of a Columbia Forest home is center of a debate between the county’s Department of Environmental Services and a local resident.

Maraea Harris created a Change.org petition to save her garden, which is planted on a hellstrip, the piece of land between a sidewalk and the road. It all started when a county official told Harris to remove the garden because it violated the county’s weed ordinance due to the plants’ heights, she said.

“Rather than work with me to create a workable solution while maintaining the environmental value and beauty of the space, the only option I was given was to make it grass or mulch,” Harris said on the petition.

Harris appealed the county’s decision. Yesterday, someone in the county manager’s office informed her that the county will postpone the removal of the garden until it can discuss the case internally, she said.

The county reached out to Harris after receiving a complaint that the garden made the sidewalk — located along a dead end portion of S. Buchanan Street — inaccessible for handicapped people, said Luis Araya, a county official with the Department of Environmental Services.

“A DES inspector contacted the owner of the residence and asked them to remove these items from the public street right-of-way as they created a hazard to public safety and were unauthorized use of the public right-of-way,” Araya said. “The county does not allow such uses to the public.”

According to the Arlington County Garbage, Refuse and Weed Ordinance, weeds and grass have to be one foot tall or less. The ordinance does not specifically mention whether flowers can be planted in the public right of way.

“The purpose of grass strips that exist between the curb and sidewalk on public streets are to accommodate street lights, water meters, street signs and other infrastructure-associated items maintained by the County and private utility companies,” Araya said.

Residents must also keep all vegetation off of sidewalk and the road in order to prevent safety hazards. Harris’ garden was becoming dangerous, Araya said.

“There are many potential safety hazards that the public can encounter in unauthorized landscaped areas in the public right-of-way such as tripping hazards, visibility issues for vehicles, narrower sidewalks limiting the width of ADA clearances for wheelchairs and, in this particular location, bee stings,” he said.

Harris said that she had no problem adjusting her garden to make the sidewalk more handicap accessible. However, she did not want to completely remove the garden, which brings butterflies and other insects to the neighborhood.

“It is a small space but there is more life in the 4 x 20 ft. space than all the neighborhood grass lawns combined,” she said on the petition.

Despite the one complaint from a neighbor, Harris said most people on S. Buchanan Street enjoy the garden. As of today, 53 people had signed the petition for the garden, including some of Harris’ neighbors.

“They like to have it because their kids walk by it to what’s in it and what’s growing,” she said.

As a gardener, Harris said it is frustrating that the county has many pollination and environmental efforts, but they want to mow over her garden hellstrip garden and others like it. Helping residents understand the guidelines and working toward a compromise over the hellstrips would be more beneficial, she said.

“Instead of coming after them, why not support them?” Harris said.

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