Town to consider tall grass rules

FRONT ROYAL – Tall grass would land property owners in hotter water under stricter rules proposed by town officials.

Town Council plans to consider changes to the code section pertaining to trash and high grass regulations for all properties in the corporate limits. Council must hold a public hearing on the ordinance amendment.

Key changes proposed:
• Increase penalties for repeat offenders who violate the rules more than once in a year
• Reduce maximum grass height from 15 inches to 10 inches
• Clarify that repeat offenders require only one notice in a year
• Require year-round grass cutting rather than during a season
• Include new definition of foreign growth
• Authorize the town manager to enforce trash and debris violations, either by assigning it a class 4 misdemeanor or by removing the trash and debris at the owner’s expense
• Add an exemption for agricultural property and areas located more than 100 feet from buildings

The Department of Planning and Zoning drafted the changes with Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett. Department Director Jeremy Camp advised council at its work session on Monday about the proposal.

The town handles about 200 complaints of tall grass per year, Camp said. However, given the number of complaints, Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe commented that perhaps the town should increase the fines that violators must pay.

“If we’re getting 200 calls a year, we need to find some way to deter growing of all this grass,” Tharpe said.

Town Manager Steve Burke said it costs $50-$100 for a crew to handle a grass violation. The town can bill the violator for the crew’s time, Burke said.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt voiced support for the proposal.

“I like the ordinance because I think we need to keep our town cleaner,” Tewalt said.

But the town also needs to abide by its own rules and keep grass cut and trash cleared, Tewalt added.

Mayor Timothy Darr asked how the town would address tall grass on rental property versus owner-occupied property. Darr estimated that a vast majority of the violations occur on rental properties whose owners likely don’t live in the area. Darr noted that the town has had problems tracking down owners in the past.

“And, don’t get me wrong, if you’re making a profit off it, you should be the guy paying for it if your person’s not doing their job,” Darr said. “But some people just don’t care, on both sides, the renter and the owner.”

The town issues a citation to the owner but the tenants also receive a notice of the violation, Camp said. Under the code, the town can mow the property and send a bill to the owner to recoup the cost. For some out-of-state owners, it costs less for the town to mow the property and send them a bill, said Deputy Zoning Administrator Chris Brock.

The code section applies only to vacant or undeveloped properties, Camp said. Thanks to Sonnett’s work in having the state code amended, the town now has full authority to regulate tall grass on vacant and occupied or developed properties, Camp explained.

The proposal also would remove language in the local code that classifies tall grass violations as a nuisance. Town attorneys had concerns about the legality of such classification, Camp said.

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