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Hedge draws $1 fine for Groh

November 06, 1997

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

Hagerstown attorney and property owner Vincent Groh won a symbolic victory Wednesday in Washington County District Court when Judge Noel Spence fined him $1 for having an overgrown hedge.

Groh, who was cited in August for the hedge at 603 Oak Hill Ave., testified that he and two of his employees measured the hedge and found it was only an inch or two wider than Hagerstown city code allows.

The code says there must be 54 inches of clear sidewalk, enough for the passage of two people.

Code enforcement officer Marc David said the citation was issued for safety reasons. He said there were places where the hedge encroached six inches to a foot beyond that limit.

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"Talk about safety," Spence said, finding Groh guilty of a technical code violation. "What about that utility pole and that sign in the middle of the sidewalk? Mr. Groh didn't put those there."

Spence was looking at photographs introduced by William Nairn, an attorney for the city, and Groh's own photos, both of which showed the pole and the sign in the sidewalk.

Hagerstown City Engineer Bruce Johnston said in a telephone interview the utility pole and the sign have to be there - a sidewalk is a right of way and that's what a right of way is for, he said.

Johnston defended the issuance of the citation, saying the hedge has lots of trash and poison ivy in it.

"That hedge looks OK from a distance but not up close," Johnston said.

Groh testified he has cut the hedge back as far as he can and still keep it green.

"Every new administration tries to get it back further," Groh said from the witness stand. "Now I hear they want 61/2 feet."

Spence stopped Groh at that point, saying he'd heard no evidence from the city to that allegation.

The judge suggested to Groh that he attempt to trim the hedge enough to satisfy the current code requirements.

Spence warned Groh that the city of Hagerstown could cite him again for the same violation if he doesn't do something about the hedge.

"We're concerned about people wanting to visit Hagerstown," Spence said. "And I'm not sure a dead yew hedge will help that."

But Spence said he believes the utility pole and the sign are the primary hazards on that stretch of sidewalk.

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