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Washington Co. revising weed control ordinance

September 01, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Commissioners are closer to approving a revised weed control ordinance after hammering out some of the remaining questions Tuesday during a workshop session.

When the commissioners first tackled the ordinance more than two months ago, discussion revolved around the broad question of where tall grasses and vegetation were, and were not, appropriate. By Tuesday's meeting, that question largely had been resolved, leaving only smaller details for discussion.

The revisions under consideration would allow lots to be exempted from the standard 18-inch height limit if the tall grasses were being used for environmental benefits such as mitigating stormwater runoff or reducing pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay. Such lots would have to be one acre or larger, and the Washington County Soil Conservation District would have to verify that the environmental management program was being conducted in accordance with the rules of a county, state or federal program.

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The change would open the door for projects like that of Sharpsburg-area residents Deane and Jennifer Joyce, who grew a meadow of tall grasses and wildflowers on their 3-acre property under the guidance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, drawing complaints from neighbors.

The commissioners have debated what type of buffer area or screening to require on such areas. They decided Tuesday to require a 15-foot-wide buffer where the lot borders a lot improved with a dwelling.

The commissioners also discussed what the vegetation height limit should be in the buffer area, ultimately deciding the standard 18-inch height limit should apply. As with lawns not exempt from the height limit, if the buffer area was found to be more than 18 inches, the person responsible would have to cut it to 5 inches or shorter.

Other issues discussed Tuesday included whether prohibitions against noxious weeds should apply to agricultural land and what types of vegetation should be prohibited.

Washington County Soil Conservation District Manager Elmer Weibley said the proposed wording prohibiting all plants "generally known to be allergenic, a skin irritant, or toxic when ingested" would encompass hundreds of plants.

"There's hardly anything that isn't allergenic to somebody," Weibley said.

The commissioners agreed to prohibit only ragweed, poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac and those plants defined by state law as "noxious weeds."

The commissioners also agreed that agricultural land should be exempt from the whole ordinance, along with unimproved areas of more than 3 acres, naturally wooded areas, and certain publicly-owned nature and recreation areas.

County attorney John M. Martirano said he would prepare another draft based on the commissioners' comments for consideration at a future meeting.

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