When push comes to shrub

Dear Ace: I’ve been doing a considerable amount of plant dodging while strolling along the sidewalks around town. Obstacle courses can be nice, but it’s starting to ruin my walks. How do I make these homeowners keep their plants off my path?—Bush Whacked

Ah, Bush. Ace understands your woes—plants can be a pain. If they aren’t attacking you with pollen in the spring, they’re hampering your leisurely stroll in summer, fall and winter. It’s a good thing the plants pull their own weight with that whole oxygen production thing; otherwise, Ace might not be able to resist his flora-cidal urges!

   To find out how to deal with negligent homeowners, Ace cut straight to the law. Searching the dense code, Ace got the sense that the tangled city laws were in need of a good trimming themselves. Following the overgrown paths to the section on Zoning and Planning, Ace discovered that it is, in fact, the expressed “duty of the owner or occupant to cut grass, weeds, and other vegetable matter from the property line to the public street right-of-way.” The code goes further to state that all city homeowners or occupants must prevent their property from becoming “unsightly, impeded or offensive.” (Ace has encountered many offensive plants in his day—should a shrub ever offend you, insult that obstinate plant right back!)

   So there’s the law, but to figure out the spirit of the law, Ace called up Jerry Tomlin, a zoning and building code official for the city of Charlottesville. An expert on the code and its implementation, Mr. Tomlin told Ace that any growth obstructing the public right of way falls under the dreaded Weed Ordinance. If the grass is not obstructing the right of way, but is nonetheless deemed “unseemly” (roughly 18" high) within 150 feet of a building, then the Weed Ordinance can also be applied.

   If there is a particular yard you have in mind, Bush, your first step would be to lodge a complaint with the Director of Planning. Should the Director of Planning determine the yard to be “unseemly” or “impeding” then the City will notify the homeowner with a written notice. If the homeowner fails to comply with the request within 10 days, then the City will do the work. But lazy homeowners, beware of this option! The costs incurred in the clean up are passed onto you.

   So, now that you know, Bush Whacked, go forth and rat out your grassy, negligent neighbors. The sidewalks will thank you!

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