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Buffer zones, screening considered for weed ordinance

July 28, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Commissioners discussed Tuesday what types of properties should be required to have buffer zones, screening or both, as a condition of being permitted to grow tall grasses.

The question came up during a workshop to discuss changes to the county weed control ordinance. The commissioners agreed that the ordinance needs some changes, but have not finalized the details of the revised version.

The biggest change under consideration is a new section that would allow grass and other vegetation taller than the standard 18-inch limit if the property is part of a program to mitigate storm-water runoff, control pests or reduce pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Grasses with deep root systems are an important tool for protecting waterways from pollution, Washington County Soil Conservation District Manager Elmer Weibley told the commissioners at their June 23 meeting.

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The draft under consideration would require a "buffer area" around such environmental management program properties, which would be the same distance as the building setback required for the property's zoning designation. That distance ranges from 5 feet on side yards in "rural village" areas to 50 feet on rear yards in agricultural rural, and environmental conservation and preservation districts.

In addition to that buffer area, Commissioner James F. Kercheval suggested requiring screening around tall-grass properties in subdivisions, which he said could be defined as clusters of 10 or more lots.

The commissioners also discussed whether buffers and screening should be required on wetlands, bird or game sanctuaries, nature study areas and property used for bona fide agricultural purposes, all of which are exempt from the height restriction under the existing ordinance.

The commissioners also discussed a suggestion by Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire to require properties to be at least one acre to qualify for the height exemption under the new, environmental management program provision.

County Attorney Kirk C. Downey said he would prepare another draft of the ordinance based on the commissioners' comments for consideration at a future meeting.

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