Actions Arlington County Should Take

Updated Tree Preservation Alternatives (8-31-18)


Arlington can do more to support the preservation of its trees. Below are some alternatives to consider:


• Adopt the Use-Value Assessment Program (as Fairfax County, Alexandria City, Loudoun County, Prince William County and most of the rest of the state has) to reward property owners for keeping large tracts of land open and undeveloped. See map and details at


• Adopt a tree preservation ordinance based on § 15.2-961.1. Conservation of trees during land development process in localities belonging to a nonattainment area for air quality standards (as has Fairfax County). See full section of the State Code at

• Adopt a countywide stormwater utility fee (as Albemarle County has) instead of or in addition to Arlington’s current service-district method to incentivize landowners to keep space open and green or to restore land to natural condition. Stormwater utility fees are charged based on a property’s percentage of impervious cover, placing a greater burden on those who generate more runoff. See and



• Strengthen enforcement of existing permitting rules on public as well as private sites and do not give APS and county government a free pass on adhering to permit requirements, as the county and board did when APS cut more trees than permitted on the Ashlawn Elementary School site (with the board simply changing the permit instead of applying penalties):

• Stop exploiting loopholes in the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act with respect to resource/riparian protection areas (RPAs) on public land. Projects at just 9 sites on publicly owned land account for the loss of 979 trees between 2014 and 2018. See matrix documenting these losses at How can Arlington expect private landowners to be good stewards when the county is such a poor steward of public land?


• Reinstate sensible setback rules and height limits for S-3A zoned public land (representing most public parkland) to discourage development in public parks. Zoning staff made clear that it wouldn’t limit these changes to school construction and intend to extend the changes to all uses and structures built on county parkland. See


• Identify and nominate more “specimen” trees — the only category that provides legal protections — beyond the 10 specimen trees on public land. Out of 11.6 sq mi of public land, there must be more than 10 trees worth saving. On the 14.4 sq mi of private land, there are 16 specimen trees. See

• “Build up, under and over rather than out” on public sites to minimize land disturbance, tree loss and the proliferation of hardscape and impervious surfaces, as recommended by the Community Facilities Study Final Report. See p. 12 at


• Apply a whole building design/whole system approach to site design on public sites, which would utilize the lowest impact strategies that limit land disturbance and preserve existing vegetation to the maximum degree possible:

• Reduce land disturbance and retain the free and sustainable natural stormwater management infrastructure (aka non-structural best management practices/BMPs) from public sites rather than replacing them with expensive, man-made “gray” stormwater management infrastructure: Non-StructuralBMPs.pdf and


• Increase the number of LEED points awarded (now just 1 point) for reducing land disturbance and preserving existing mature trees on sites to be developed.

• Integrate stormwater management/impervious surface reduction principles into lot coverage restrictions and apply lot coverage restrictions to ALL housing, not just single-family properties:


• Increase the minimum landscaping percentage for all of its commercial zoning categories to 20%, as the ordinance does for the C-1-O zoning category:

• Fully fund land acquisition for public natural space. The draft Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP/POPS) states that acquiring 204 additional natural acres is needed to serve a growing population, but the board and manager have delayed acquisition funding until 2025 or 2035 — when there is no guarantee that any such parcels will still exist. See p. 24 at and p. C-7 at


• Work with state and federal stormwater program managers to “better integrate urban tree canopy and riparian buffer goals with TMDL/WIP implementation and MS4 programs” — see p. 11 of “Tree Canopy Outcome Management Strategy 2015–2025” at . See also Del. Patrick Hope’s 2018 bill (hopefully to be revived in 2019) — HB 447 Chesapeake Bay Preservation Areas; preservation of mature trees — Adds the preservation of mature trees, both as a stormwater management tool and as a means of providing other benefits, to the list of activities that the State Water Resources Board is directed to encourage and promote.

• Educate residential property owners on the benefits of meaningful historic preservation designation that protects both the mature landscape and trees as well as historic structures:


• Explore purchasing the preservation rights for the tree. See James Komen at He wrote an article on this topic, which is available here:

Arlington’s leaders should proudly look for ways to preserve trees and restore natural infrastructure that benefit human health and wildlife.
The loss of Arlington’s mature tree canopy isn’t inevitable, it’s a choice.