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Homeowner Fighting County’s Order to Trim Front Yard Vegetation

A homeowner in Arlington’s Forest Glen neighborhood says she plans to fight a county inspector’s order that the abundant plant life in her yard be dramatically trimmed.

Lori Brent says her front yard at 665 S. Harrison Street has been a certified wildlife habitat for well over a decade and is beloved by many of her neighbors.

But it was a complaint from a neighbor earlier this year that prompted a county inspector to pay her a visit.

“I found it really weird because I’ve lived here for 15 years and everyone loves my yard,” she said.

Acknowledging that her garden had become “a little overgrown” after she had been away for three weeks, Brent said a “very adversarial” inspector stopped by, called the yard “a jungle” and said “you’ll be getting a letter from us.”

According to Brent, the letter ordered her to trim all of the plant life, even bushes and trees (the county disputes that), to a height of 12 inches. A follow-up inspection, to ensure her compliance, is scheduled for tomorrow (Friday).

Brent, however, said she has trimmed all that she intends to trim, making the yard — which now include Halloween decorations — look “more like a proper garden,” even if it might not meet the letter of the law.

“I cut more than I’d like to… in good faith, to be a good neighbor,” Brent said. “It kills me to get rid of the food sources for the animals before the winter. We can’t have just grass, that’s horrible for wildlife.”

“I flat out refuse” to do more trimming, said Brent. “Frankly it’s against my religion, I’m Pagan. You can’t get me to rid our animal habits and put in cement or whatever they want.”

Arlington County officials, as you might imagine, have a bit of a different story.

“Although, it is not our practice to discuss the details of active enforcement cases, I’d like to provide clarity regarding the issues generated at this particular property,” said Gary Greene, Code Enforcement Section Chief for the county’s Inspection Services Division, via email.

“In 1988, the Commonwealth enabled localities to adopt an ordinance to deal with nuisance conditions like excessive vegetation overgrowth and vegetation that encroaches upon sidewalks and streets,” he wrote. “Where adopted, the legislation has been effective in reducing the nuisances and public health hazards created by biting, stinging and jumping insects, increased pollen litter and harborage for rodents and the vast number of predators that prey on them.”

“Arlington’s Condition of Private Property Ordinance limits the height of grass or lawn areas to not more than 12 inch height, a limit consistent with international standards used to control vector related pest issues,” Greene added. “Our investigation of the complaint at the address provided, affirmed overgrowth in excess of five feet, vegetation encroaching onto the sidewalk and even extended onto county property immediately adjacent to the private parcel.”

Long story short: Brent’s personal Garden of Eden could be an inviting home for a bunch of bad critters, and that’s why the county is on her case.

“The enforcement is not arbitrary or onerous, but it is equitable to ensure public health; and yes, there are considerations for cultivated areas,” said Greene. (Similar enforcement has taken place elsewhere in the county.)

“The County’s issue is public health, not manicured lawns,” he said.

Brent, for her part, is left to wonder why the enforcement is taking place now, even though her yard has been chock full of vegetation for a decade. As far as wildlife, she said the yard is primarily home to chipmunks, rabbits and birds — critters that aren’t going to harm humans.

“My neighbors are all up in arms, they’re so upset,” Brent said. “The situation has been surreal to say the least.”

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