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Strasburg to revisit tall grass rules, violators

By Alex Bridges

Many Strasburg property owners keep their grass too high but notification rules make enforcement tough, officials say.

The town limits the height of grass and weeds to 12 inches. Violators receive notices before town officials move forward to cut the grass.

But Councilman Donald Le Vine said Thursday the process makes complaint-driven enforcement cumbersome and a few property owners abuse the system.

Town Council's Ordinance Committee discussed the problem Monday. Le Vine chairs the panel. Town Manager Judson Rex told the committee that each growing season Strasburg receives complaints for approximately 100-150 properties about tall grass. Town Attorney Nathan Miller also has been asked to look at how Strasburg can streamline the notification process for violations of all ordinances.

"Then there's the question of chronic offenders and this is a difficult thing to define -- there's a willful disobedience of the ordinance, those people who seem to be 'playing games' with the system and pushing it to the limits," Le Vine said. "How can we deal with those people without imposing an undue burden on the people who are trying their best to do things?"

Violations of the tall-grass rule make up the greatest number of notices the town issues, Rex said.

"You know 12 inches is awfully high and if you have a pretty long notice period before folks have to have their grass cut, it's already at 12 inches and it's going to get even taller and longer and kind of run into problems," Rex said.

Tall grass can attract undesired animals, he added.

Strasburg sends a first notice to a violator and allows the resident or property owner 10 days to cut the grass. If the violation continues, the town sends a second notice by registered mail and allows another 10 days to comply.

"We just got to looking into it and said we could probably speed things up in terms of getting people into compliance," Rex said.

Strasburg code allows the town to cut the grass when a property fails to comply. The town can charge the property owner for the cost of the work.

Rex estimates the cost to cut the grass at about $200 depending on the size of the lot. State and town code allow Strasburg to charge an administrative fee. The town can place a lien on the property should the owner fail to pay the bill. Strasburg hasn't had to take anyone to court, he said.

"I think that folks agree that if my neighbor's got some tall grass it's really a nuisance," Rex said. "I think most people just want it taken care of so that really hasn't come up as an issue, surprisingly."

Tall grass rules, fines and the notification process for violations differ among towns and counties in the region.

Shenandoah County does not have an ordinance that specifically regulates grass height. Zoning Administrator Joyce Fadeley said Wednesday that the county code regulates tall grass through its nuisance ordinance. The Sheriff's Office and the Health Department investigate nuisances. The Health Department can enforce the nuisance ordinance should tall grass create a health threat by harboring vermin, Fadeley explained.

Mount Jackson allows grass to grow up to 12 inches while Woodstock limits growth to 10 inches. Mount Jackson gives a property owner 10 days to comply if found in violation of the rule while Woodstock allows seven days.

Warren County and Front Royal allow grass height up to 15 inches. In Warren County's case, only two areas have an ordinance that addresses tall grass -- Blue Ridge Shadows and Henselstone Woods. The county's Planning and Zoning Department regulates the ordinance as it applies in those areas, Building Official David Beahm said.

Frederick County allows grass to grow to 18 inches. Stephens City allows grass up to 12 inches; Middletown up to 10 inches.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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