Image from Inside Nova
For many, bamboo serves as a beautifying tool for their yards, adding a vibrant and somewhat exotic flair to what would otherwise be your typical suburban garden. Bamboo’s robust nature allows it to be grown on most terrains without the use of chemicals/pesticides. Add to that the fact that it has practical benefits, such as erosion prevention, and it’s easy to see why property owners and residents are fond of keeping this grass (that’s right, it’s not a tree) around.
Unfortunately, one neighbor’s bamboo garden may be another’s cause to bring a lawsuit. For example, in a March 2022 case, Willems v. Batcheller, the Fairfax County Circuit Court held that the defendants’ spread of bamboo onto the plaintiffs’ property was a nuisance because of damage caused by overgrowth, and that the bamboo was also trespassory because it required the defendants’ effort and planning in planting it close to the plaintiffs’ property.
In essence, the defendants should have known that growing bamboo and not maintaining it would lead to these consequences. Because of issues like this one, Fairfax County has turned to its residents to figure out a solution.
What is running bamboo?
Bamboo exists in two main types: clumping and running. Without getting into the weeds of botany, the general difference between the two is that clumping bamboo keeps its roots in a designated area and grows in a cluster, whereas running bamboo has roots that spread in long, horizontal growths.
Garden enthusiasts are drawn to running bamboo for its versatility – kept in check, running bamboo can provide natural barriers for privacy or aesthetics. However, Fairfax is concerned with what happens when running bamboo (considered invasive in Virginia) is left unchecked, say by a property owner who owns a plot but rarely frequents it for maintenance.
The March 2022 amendment
The Fairfax Board of Supervisors, after hearing residents’ support and concern regarding uncontained running bamboo at its Feb. 22 hearing, deferred its decision regarding potential civil penalties for failure to contain running bamboo. On March 22, the board approved an amendment to Chapter 119 of the Fairfax County Code, establishing an ordinance that gives powers to the Department of Code Compliance (DCC) to investigate complaints of uncontained running bamboo and impose consequences for those in violation.
How does this new ordinance affect Fairfax County property owners and residents?
Under Virginia Code § 15.2-901.1, Fairfax County is authorized to impose civil penalties on property owners who allow uncontained running bamboo to spread onto adjacent properties not owned by the bamboo owner or any public right-of-way.
The March 22 amendment would authorize the DCC to seek civil penalties against property owners within 30 days after receiving notice of the violation, with $50 for the first violation and $200 for any subsequent violation. Additionally, a separate offense would be assessed for each business day the same violation exists, with total penalties not exceeding $3,000 per 12-month period for each violation.
The board has given property owners some leeway: The ordinance doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2023, and at the Feb. 22 hearing, board members stressed that they prioritize educating the community on the matter over fines. Additionally, under the new ordinance, property owners will be able to appeal any decisions of violation. With over 200 acres of bamboo to regulate, Fairfax County has their work cut out for them.
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