Property owners and tenants in Fairfax County will soon be required to contain running bamboo, and the local park authority is no exception.
The Fairfax County Park Authority, which oversees 23,000 acres of land, says it has an estimated 204 acres or more of bamboo. The new ordinance, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, introduces the possibility of fines for people who get a complaint for letting running bamboo spread beyond their property.
“We’ll be working with code compliance as well as our neighboring properties to achieve compliance in the eyes of the ordinance,” John Burke, the park authority’s branch manager of natural resources, said Wednesday (April 27) during a park authority committee meeting.
Burke said the FCPA has been removing and monitoring bamboo over the years, but it could have more than estimated. The invasive plant can spread as much as 15 feet horizontally per year, according to the county.
The park authority has been removing two to three bamboo sites per year, but it can be expensive.
At Gilbert S. McCutcheon Park in Fort Hunt, FCPA removed about an acre of bamboo in two patches, and it cost about $35,000 — almost entirely due to herbicide treatment costs during 2021 and 2022.
Jim Zook, an at-large member of the park authority board, called for more education about not planting the species. Virginia gave municipalities the authority to ban it in 2017 but still lets customers purchase it.
Prior to adopting the running bamboo ordinance in March, Fairfax County supervisors said it isn’t perfect, but officials say they will try to work with property owners to help them meet requirements before imposing fines.
Ron Kendall, the park authority board’s Mason District representative, questioned where the park authority will find the money to support compliance.
According to Burke, the McCutcheon park example was atypical, but there could be other complications.
“Eradication countywide may not be possible or likely,” he said. “We may have to have some serious discussions with neighboring landowners about…eradicating bamboo versus trying to contain it.”
Burke estimated that the park authority receives around 10 to 20 bamboo complaints per year from neighboring homeowners, involving either problems spreading from park property to homes or concerns about bamboo adjacent to park property.
Fairfax County will soon require property owners and residents to prevent running bamboo from spreading and take steps to contain it.
After holding a public hearing in February, the Board of Supervisors approved the new ordinance yesterday (Tuesday), but officials reiterated that county staff will first seek to educate community members and let them correct issues voluntarily before fines are imposed.
Still, people could face fines of $50 a day for an initial complaint, followed by additional fines of up to $200 a day for each subsequent case.
“We’re not ever in the business of trying to make money. We’re in the business of trying to force the hand of compliance,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said.
The ordinance won’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2023.
Code compliance staff will be responsible for investigating complaints of uncontained running bamboo against people who fail to contain it within 30 days of receiving notice of the violation, staff noted in a board agenda item.
People who receive a violation can also file an appeal to the county executive within 10 days of delivery of a notice.
Fairfax County Director of Code Compliance Jack Weyant suggested that fines would be invoked for cases that have gone for a year or longer.
He said fines will be a progressive system but hopefully won’t be needed.
State law adopted in 2017 has allowed municipalities to impose financial penalties on uncontained running bamboo, but other types of nuisances, such as poison ivy, weren’t covered by the law.
Virginia still allows running bamboo to be sold. Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, who heads the board’s legislative committee, said the county will bring that issue up with state legislators.
Fairfax County is looking to crack down on running bamboo spreading to properties across the region.
Residents expressed both support for and concern about proposed fines for property owners who allow bamboo to spread during a public hearing before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (Feb. 22).
The board deferred a decision on adopting an ordinance to March 22, suggesting ways to address the concerns raised about the new rules.
“I think it’s clear we’re going to address this. The question is making sure we get the language right,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said, thanking speakers for helping the county make the ordinance as effective as possible.
Under the county’s proposal, property owners who receive complaints for failing to contain running bamboo would be required to address the issue within 30 days of getting a notice of the violation. Fines would start at $50 for a first violation and go up to $200 for each subsequent incident, with penalties capped at $3,000 in a year-long period.
The county has considered an ordinance for years but pursued educational efforts simultaneously. In 2017, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation authorizing localities to regulate bamboo.
Complications with creating an ordinance were evident at the public hearing. Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw hypothetically noted that someone who had bamboo spread from a neighbor’s property to theirs and then to another neighbor’s would mean that both they and the original homeowner would be responsible.
“It’s not just the original planter of the bamboo,” Walkinshaw said.
He suggested the county should have a policy about not pursuing fines if it’s unclear who was initially responsible.
Fairfax County Director of Code Compliance Jack Weyant said the county would first pursue educational efforts, distributing flyers and working with homeowners, before fines were considered.
Speakers at the meeting, including Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, also raised concerns about how the amount of the proposed fines could affect residents.
“If you’re on a fixed income, you could lose your house over that,” resident Judi Johnson said, calling the maximum penalty horrifying. She added that bamboo isn’t a monster, saying it’s just people haven’t learned how to work with it.
In contrast, resident Petra Riedel-Willems says she has been inundated by bamboo on all sides around her property.
“I strongly, strongly support this ordinance,” she said, adding that she feared it might lead people to use environmentally harmful pesticides and wants to avoid that.
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said that running bamboo is still sold commercially and allowed by the state.
“It would be nice to be able to turn the spigot off so that…we’re not at least seeing additional problems emerge,” he said.