If only all county issues could be weedwhacked

September 25, 2008

I refuse to take sides in the Great Sharpsburg Weed Debate of 2008, which has pitted a gentleman with 3 acres of tall, grassy "natural habitat" against neighbors who believe it's an eyesore and a nuisance.

Look, if you want to live in a neatly manicured subdivision where all the homes look alike and every blade of grass in every yard is perfectly clipped, I get that. It's a bit bland for my taste, but there's value in knowing that you won't be surrounded by washing machines on the front porch and cars up on blocks.

But I also understand that acres of coifed, weed-free lawns, while they may look nice, are an environmental disaster, requiring bushels of chemicals and constant attention from fuel-burning, carbon-belching mowers.

So one man's natural habitat is another man's weed patch, and I doubt the two sides are ever going to see eye-to-eye.


But here's what I don't understand. People can drag race up and down country roads, throw loud, drunken beer parties until all hours of the morning, shoot guns at other people's houses, and when you call the county they say there's nothing they can do.

But if a weed gets higher than 18 inches?

Boy howdy, here comes the Washington County posse, rip-snortin' into the neighborhood brandishing cease and desist letters and string trimmers.

We let a million indiscretions a day go by without doing a thing. So when did we get so jacked about quackgrass?

I'm no weed apologist - if I could wave a wand and get rid of every poke in America I would, and if the birds didn't like it they could pay for the fruit bar at Denny's.

But with all the issues the county has to deal with, from inadequate roads to disappearing jobs to farmland preservation, here we are, worrying about fescue. Hey, if the commissioners are that worried about weeds, they can come over to my place for about a week, where they could really Make a Difference in this troubled world of ours.

County zoning officials had just decided that the 3 acres in question qualified for an exemption of the county's - love the name - Weed Ordinance under the "nature study area" clause. But commissioners rushed in to overrule, citing the need to adhere to a "literal interpretation" of the law.

So now it sounds like a constitutional issue. So who filed the amicus curiae brief, ChemLawn?

One longs for consistency. Several years ago, Smithsburg residents worried that a quarry expansion could threaten the entire Beaver Creek watershed. The commissioners stepped in to allow the expansion to proceed.

Now, some blue-stem grass threatens the visual homogeneity of a subdivision and they're going to go to the mat on a legal technicality?

I guess the owner of the grasslands stands convicted of failing to be a multimillion-dollar corporation with substantial political connections.

But beyond that, it seems to me that if Washington County can have a Weed Ordinance, it ought to be able to also have a Jerk Ordinance. Just something that would provide a little legal discouragement to the human crabgrass of this world that commit acts of public stupidity - usually preceded by the words, "Hold my beer and watch this ..."

Of course, a weed ordinance stands a better chance of being enforced. There are only a limited number of weeds.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at

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