Environment and Gardening

Weed Ordinances

A friend of mine would like to install a meadow on her property in BaltimoreCounty.  I was concerned, because the Baltimore County weed ordinance states:

SUBTITLE 4. WEED CONTROL § 13-7-401.  PROHIBITED ACTS; PENALTY.   (a)     In general.  An owner, occupant, or person in control of a lot or parcel of land in the county may not allow or maintain on the lot or parcel of land: (1)     A growth of grass, weeds, or other rank vegetation to a height exceeding 1 foot;

Well, a meadow certainly contains grasses in excess of 1 foot.  And who is to say what a weed is?  There is hope, however, because the ordinance also states:

(b)  Authority to modify the requirements.

(1)     The Department may modify the requirements of subsection (a) of this section in the cases of bona fide agricultural property, natural wooded areas, naturally vegetated landscape buffers in residential areas, stream protection areas, habitat protection areas, steep slope and erodible soil protection areas, storm water management facilities areas, unimproved areas in more than 3 acres, areas publicly owned and maintained as natural areas, and private open-space areas covenanted with the county as recreational areas to be maintained in their natural state.

So, there are a couple outs here.  First, what do they consider a “naturally vegetated landscape buffer?”  What must it be buffering?  What would they consider a “habitat protection area?”  What about “private open-space areas covenanted with the county as recreational areas to be maintained in their natural state?”  How does one strike such a covenant?

The next step is to look for the definitions within the ordinance.  No such luck.  I could not find them.  So, I called the local government for answers.  If my friend put in a native plants meadow, which is a great ecological asset, would they make her cut it down?  After getting bounced between ten different people I finally spoke to someone who seemed to have an answer:  maybe.  That is, it’s fine unless someone complains.  Then we’ll probably make you cut it down.

Sigh.

I’m no stranger to municipal regulations, and it’s my opinion that that the law is often in the eye of the beholder.  Or, more specifically, the preferences of the regulator.  Or in other cases the hands of person who makes the most noise.  The fact is many regulations require some kind of interpretation, which means that someone’s opinion is playing into it.

Probably the best thing to do in this case is to consult with the neighbors.  Tell them the plan, make sure they’re ok with it.  Then talk to the Baltimore County Cooperative Extension.  Ask for documentation supporting the claim that meadows are ecological assets.  Also, plan to maintain a mowed grass edge to the meadow, so that that the property looks taken care of even after rain and snow have beaten the flowers and grasses into the black stalks of winter.  Some books also suggest putting up signage.  The theory is that if people see a sign telling them all the advantages of a naturalized area, they are less likely to complain.  I guess it makes it seem more official.

I have a meadow book and a seed catalog that I will give to my friend next time I see her.  What she does with that information is up to her.  Hopefully she will be allowed to do something good for the Earth.   Hopefully a well meaning ordinance won’t prevent her from creating beauty and wildlife habitat out of what is currently a grassy lawn.

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