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.”
The neighborhood, one of the smallest in the county, spans from Glencarlyn Park to 7th Road S. and Tyriol Hill Park. The Forest Glen Civic Association has grown increasingly concerned over non-residents — specifically, residents of apartment buildings in neighboring communities — taking up available street parking they feel should be reserved for only neighborhood residents.
“Residents even drive a car from the apartment complex, park it on our street, and get into a different car already parked on our street,” Shawn Brown, a Forest Glen resident, wrote in an email to ARLnow.com. “That’s pretty crazy and really unacceptable.”
Forest Glen residents say street parking is nearly impossible to find late at night, with the streets filled not only with cars, but commercial vans and trucks. The civic association has prepared a draft appeal for the county to institute permit parking, citing the source of the problem as “the overcrowded apartments, condominiums, and duplexes that are located to the south of our neighborhood (between 7th Road S. and Columbia Pike and between Carlin Springs Road and Dinwiddie Street).”
However, any parking zone created by the civic association’s request under the current parking ordinance would also include residents of neighboring Columbia Heights West, which includes those apartment buildings. That’s something the civic association wants to avoid.
County Parking Manager Sarah Stott says she considers Forest Glen and Columbia Heights West “basically one community.” The county is currently conducting a study to determine whether, instead of restricting parking, more street parking can be created along the streets.
“Maybe there’s one space here, one space there [to add],” Stott said, adding that the “signs team” is studying if signs can be moved to create spaces. “We’ve got some wide streets there, we could put in angled parking and see if that could work. That could gain you a lot more spaces than parallel parking. We’re having engineers see if there’s a way to do that.”
If the study yields results the civic association finds unsatisfactory, it may submit its draft appeal, which suggests creating its own special parking ordinance for Forest Glen. If it does, Stott says she’s not exactly sure what would come next.
“I don’t know what that process would be,” she told ARLnow.com. “We haven’t had that before where a civic association, or anybody has appealed to the county to write its own ordinance.”
The appeal also references the special parking zones that have been established in the much-larger neighborhoods of Douglas Park and Columbia Forest, which restrict nighttime street parking. Even if the draft were to become an official ordinance, Forest Glen residents may not be too pleased with the results. Connor said he doesn’t see a need to increase parking for Forest Glen homeowners.
“The design folks are going to look at that entire community, but the intent isn’t to create the capacity in Forest Glen, which is a single-family neighborhood” he said. “Ideally the county is going to be able to create capacity in the higher-density neighborhoods.”
The full text of the civic association’s appeal is after the jump.
Update at 9:20 a.m. — Forest Glen Civic Association President Ron Ross said the neighborhood’s “ideas for a possible appeal have not been finalized” and said the appeal sent to ARLnow.com does not reflect the civic association’s official stance. He added, “There is a considerable amount of parking in Forest Glen by non-residents, decreasing the parking space for Forest Glen homeowners. The additional vehicles have also brought peripheral problems, such as trash left on the neighborhood streets and lawns, noise during nighttime hours, as well as blocking driveways of homeowners.”