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Shrubman is a match for Fairfax County planners
By Tom Knott
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Metropolitan Section
Thursday, April 19, 2001


The pencil heads in Fairfax County believe it is against the law if you do not plant a specific number of shrubs and trees on your property.

Let there be no misunderstandings.

If you do not comply with the county's land-use laws, the pencil
heads will lock you up and throw away the key.

John Thoburn is slated to spend his 63rd day in jail today because of his poor landscaping taste. He has become known as ``the Shrubman,'' and he is a proud man, convinced of his correctness in this ever-silly battle involving
one landowner and a myopic bureaucracy.

The pencil heads think they are right, too. You see, they have the law on their side. They can cite this or that zoning ordinance. They can read the ordinances aloud if you like. It is black and white. It is very simple. The Shrubman's 46-acre golf paradise in Reston is in violation of the law,
and that is that.

Well, the law is dumb, stupid, and the pencil heads in Fairfax County can't see the forest for the trees. They lost the land-use struggle years ago, and now, really, there is nothing to negotiate. Can you say Tysons Corner? Can you say 7-Eleven? Can you say strip mall?

The towering cranes planted along the Dulles Toll Road are seemingly the new state bird, each being fed by the latest dot-com vision.

This is beautiful? This is an attempt to be at one with the environment?

You want to discuss land use, pencil head? Get out of here. You're kidding.

Each crane is a sign of more newcomers, more housing developments, more traffic and more pollution. Each crane serves the impending nightmare ahead.

The pencil heads fought the developers, with varying levels of commitment, wink, wink, and the developers won long ago.

Yet the Shrubman remains in jail, courtesy of Circuit Court Judge Michael P. McWeeny.

The Shrubman is locked up with the usual assortment of druggies and thugs.

They pose a threat to society, while the Shrubman apparently poses a threat to someone's idea of good landscaping habits. The county has standards, and the Shrubman, try as he might over the years, has failed to meet those standards.

It is all kind of confusing, as bureaucracies usually are. The county has a specific number of shrubs and trees in mind, and the Shrubman remains short. He built a berm that met the county's approval, and everyone feels
good about that.

So now it is all about the number of shrubs and trees, if not the $1,000-a-day fine the county has imposed on the Shrubman's business until it comes
into compliance.

To the residents of Fairfax County, these are your tax dollars at
work.

You are paying someone to count the number of shrubs and trees at a golf park in Reston. You also are paying for the Shrubman's cuisine in jail, if cuisine is the right word, and the Shrubman seems to think the cuisine isn't
fit for a dog.

A D.C.-based watchdog group, Defenders of Property Rights, has taken up the Shrubman's cause. After the laughter subsided, the organization became mad, according to Bob Harrison, the group's director of public policy.

``Aside from it being one of the memorable outrages of the last couple of years, it is inexplicable, '' he said yesterday. ``When you try to comply with the irrational, you're never going to find a satisfactory solution.''

A hearing on the berm is scheduled tomorrow, only the berm is no longer an issue.

``I have to think that somewhere someone openbracket}in the county governmentclosebracket} is thinking that this is not going well, '' Mr. Harrison said. ``All sorts of interesting questions are being raised. It leads one to believe there is a subtext. This isn't an act of stupidity, because no one can be that stupid.''

By Mr. Harrison's rough calculations, the numbers involving the Shrubman and the county come down to this: 30-50 trees and shrubs, plus where to plant them, and the ever-accumulating fines.

``He's not capable of paying that fine, '' Mr. Harrison said.

Obviously, the county is serious, clueless to a fault, and to confirm it, the Shrubman is spending his 63rd day in jail today.

Please, someone, free the Shrubman.
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