Local Commentary

A Penny For Your Thoughts

For millennia, bamboo has been the stuff of poetry, paintings, and pandas. Building materials, textiles, human food, and household décor all are common uses for bamboo. It also is popular for landscape barriers along property lines, and that’s the rub. Some types of bamboo are characterized by their aggressive spreading behavior – “running bamboo” – which can end up, unwanted, in a neighbor’s yard. Multiple complaints about invasive running bamboo have resulted in a new ordinance adopted by the Board of Supervisors last week.

The new language amended the county’s “grass ordinance” to establish regulations on running bamboo, as well as civil penalties. Bamboo actually is the largest grass species, and the enabling legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly focuses on species in the genus Phyllostachus. Not all bamboo is running bamboo; there are clumping types that do not spread with the fast-growing rhizomes and culms that characterize running bamboo. The ordinance does not require owners to remove existing bamboo. It also does not prohibit new plantings of bamboo, although future problems could be curtailed if the Commonwealth banned nursery sales of the offending species.

The Department of Code Compliance (DCC) would be responsible for investigating complaints of uncontrolled running bamboo that has spread to adjacent property or the public right-of-way. The process is complaint-driven; upon receipt of a complaint about uncontrolled running bamboo onto a neighbor’s property, DCC staff would visit both properties, determine the type of bamboo, and work with the property owner who has the bamboo to abate or otherwise control the offending bamboo. A containment measure could include a barrier (thick plastic or metal) that is impenetrable to running bamboo, installed at sufficient depth to prevent the spread of the invasive species. If a trench is used as a containment measure, it must be installed at a sufficient depth to prevent the spread onto adjacent properties. Owners who fail to contain their running bamboo within 30 days after receiving a Notice of Violation (NOV) may be subject to civil penalties imposed by the court. Initial violations would be subject to a $50 penalty; total penalties could be as high as $2000 (reduced from a high of $3000) per 12-month period.

For many property owners, bamboo existed prior to their purchase of the property, so they are questioning who has responsibility for its containment. DCC investigators often hear similar complaints about what might have happened – perhaps an addition that was not permitted, or a patio or deck that encroaches into the setback – on a property prior to the current ownership. It’s an unwelcome complication, but when a property is purchased, the new owner also buys all of its amenities and shortcomings.

There are shortcomings, as well, in the new ordinance. Removing bamboo can take years, not 30 days, for success, so it will be very difficult to meet a 30-day time frame. Most DCC investigators will seek an indication of compliance, and work toward success. If a property owner ignores the NOV, or fails to file an appeal of same, a summons can be filed in the General District Court. Only the court can impose the civil penalties outlined in the ordinance. The Board of Supervisors delayed the effective date of the new ordinance to January 1, 2023.

Humanitarian efforts to help Ukraine and its residents are underway in Northern Virginia, under the auspices of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC). Each Board of Supervisors’ office is accepting donations of new or gently used coats, blankets, new gloves and new socks. The last day to donate is April 15; Paxton Van Lines is providing boxes and storage space for donations which will be shipped to humanitarian agencies in Europe for distribution to refugees. Earlier this week, I visited the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center and Family Store in Mason District, which donated nearly 2000 coats and jackets of all sizes, from infant to adult, for Ukraine relief. The need is so great. Please be generous via donations at Supervisor offices or your favorite charity.

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov.