CGVC Information regarding City code section 54.54.b for vegetation in swales and right of way

CGVC Vice Chair Baraloto met with city officials earlier this year to discuss concerns from CG residents regarding plantings in swales and rights of way. Below is a summary of these meetings. Please contact us with concerns or requests for further information.

First, it is important to understand the intent of the code. The code enforcement priority is life safety. Code interpretation is not meant to prohibit planting of native vegetation - quite the opposite, but in appropriate fashion. A preponderant factor is visibility, especially in areas with narrow roadways and/or lack of sidewalks, as well as turning areas and driveways. 

Another factor for life safety is runoff of material that may either hit pedestrians or vehicles (gravel) or block stormwater drainage (gravel, mulch). Permeability and stormwater mitigation is also important, and use of swale blocks in addition to sod can be considered. 

Another factor is suitability of planting, especially of larger woody plants - (ie, right tree in right place), and not too high a density. These may fall or lose limbs in areas of pedestrian or auto traffic. 

A complementary factor is utility obstruction. Anything that requires digging needs a permit. Sod was chosen as the best default because it does not require digging, does not inhibit visibility, is permeable, and does not pose a harm from runoff. 

Other groundcovers can (and should) be discussed, especially if they are native and shade tolerant and require less irrigation and fertilizer. 

Plastic turf is not appropriate, especially if it is installed so as to be impermeable and thereby lead to sheeting of stormwater. In addition, plastic turf contributes to urban heat island effects and releases potentially harmful volatile compounds. 

Those considering any planting (or material) other than sod must apply for a permit with DER. This is not meant to be onerous but to ensure compliance, especially with life safety issues. Native plantings - when appropriate - are encouraged and will be approved. Those who have already planted may receive citations (in a reactive fashion, often due to complaints), primarily if there is a life safety issue (visibility, stormwater runoff, gravel spilling).

There is no current mechanism to legalize existing vegetation or covers other than sod. These areas may be subject to citation if they are deemed hazardous. Homeowners are encouraged to maintain areas in a fashion consistent with the interpretations of code described above.