Options to save trees on Arlington lots destined for development
February 19, 2019
To maximize the chance of tree preservation, be aware of what land might go up for sale beforehand and chat with owners and realtors about tree preservation before a property is put up for spec development.
House already purchased by a developer/builder? Initiate conversation as soon as possible. It is easier to point out the benefits of saving trees before the builder has invested in plans and submitted them to the county.
Contact Vincent Verweij, Arlington County’s Urban Forester, re trees and land https://environment.arlingtonva.us/author/vverweij/ and firstname.lastname@example.org
- Are any trees in Chesapeake resource protection area? Can this impact development decisions?
- Are there any designated specimen trees? (Specimen trees are protected.) Are there any champion/notable trees? (Owner can cut these, but the designation opens conversation of their recognized value.)
- Are any portions of the trees on county property?
- Will the development affect tree roots of neighboring property trees?
Work with the developer early:
- Show the builder the benefits to bottom line to save trees. (See below “Discuss the benefits with the builder”)
- Ask the builder what he/she would need to save a tree. What county concessions or variances might be useful to save trees?
- Then ask the County Board, County Manager Mark Schwartz to consider these requests, and copy Vincent Verweij. (Such as waive county fee for parking of equipment on the street? Can the county give more stormwater-management credit to saving/preserving mature trees on a given site, to lower the builder’s cost, making builder more amenable to saving the tree? (See ATAG list of other actions Arlington County could take.)
Examples of success:
Nottingham St and N. 27thSt. tree: Washington Post article here and below
Steps that worked for saving the Nottingham St. tree:
- Get involved before a lot is sold (e.g. talk to listed realtor and express concern about the fate of trees on lot when sold to developer, which realtor may or may not pass along to developer).
- Canvass neighborhood to see how wide and deep support is among neighbors to advocate for tree(s) and their benefits (see below “Explain the benefits to builder”). Perhaps do a petition? (Petition could be on line and/or door-to-door.)
- Identify buyer/builder as soon as possible after sale (sales are public record, and developer also must put up sign on lot, or you may get this information from realtor).
- Contact builder as early as possible (before they have a general plan for the house, if possible).
- Respectfully express the neighborhood’s desire that trees be preserved (presenting evidence in petitions, etc.).
- Discuss the benefits with the builder (saving money from not cutting trees and from requiring less tree planting to meet tree canopy requirement, greater neighborhood goodwill/support, better stormwater management, amazing presentation ofhouse with tree as highlight and selling point, landscape beauty, energy saving, air quality, and wildlife and climate change benefits, etc.).
- Get Arlington tree folks involved, if possible or applicable: Tree Stewards, Urban Forest Commission, etc.
Willow Oak at 1204 S. Cleveland St.
Process still in play as of February 2019, though neighbors had success when county’s Vincent Verweij determined that part of the tree was on county land. Stay tuned.
Friendly overtures to owner can help to find ways to save a tree. Engage with the builders politely and proactively.
What does the builder need to save a tree and how can the county work with the developer? What assistance/guidance/variances can the county provide to save trees— even with by-right development? The County Board, Mark Schwartz, and Vincent Verweij need to hear requests—
from neighbors, concerned citizens, along with the developer involved— for concessions regarding placement of home, setbacks, stormwater-management credit for saving/preserving mature trees, etc. Initiating these requests to the county can help make positive changes now and in the future.
By John Carey
The Washington Post
August 11, 2017
All too often, when older homes are demolished to make room for larger new homes, the trees that shaded the old homes, sometimes for generations, are cut down.
That could have been the fate of a mighty oak on the corner of North Nottingham and 27th streets. More than 18 feet in circumference, the Willdenow’s oak (a natural hybrid between a black oak and southern red oak) escaped the widespread felling of Arlington’s trees during the Civil War for fuel and building materials and is listed among Arlington’s 100 designated “champion” trees. Thought to be the largest Willdenow’s oak in the state, with its acorns in the Smithsonian, “it’s truly irreplaceable and a living part of Arlington’s history,” said local plant ecologist Rod Simmons.
That pedigree, however, offered no protection against developers’ chain saws. To make room for a larger house, “normally it would have been taken down,” said DS Homes project manager Bill Nichols. DS Homes bought the property for redevelopment in 2014, after the longtime homeowner died.
But this story has a happy ending, thanks to the activism of local residents and the willingness of DS Homes to alter its original plans. Neighbor Vicki Arroyo, my wife, collected scores of signatures on a petition to save the tree.
“It was clear that Arlington residents are frustrated by the loss of mature trees to development,” she said. “People of all ages wanted to do what they could to save this special tree, but there was also a sense that ‘enough is enough.’ ”
When Paula Kelso, another neighbor, an editor at The Post and a volunteer for TreeStewards of Arlington and Alexandria, became aware of the threat, she swung into action. “I made a couple of urgent calls to the developer, knowing that the heavy machinery could come up at any minute,” she said. Kelso organized meetings between neighbors and DS Homes. As a result, “before we even started the house, we knew that there had been a petition and that the neighborhood wanted the tree saved,” Nichols said. “When we go into a neighborhood, we want to get along with everyone. So we decided that DS Homes was going to do what it could to save the tree.”
The designers worked around the huge oak, which is near the edge of a wide lot, siting the garage on the tree side of the property. Because there would be no basement under the garage, the tree’s roots would have the maximum room and minimum disturbance, leaving plenty of room for a large house.
Protecting the oak saved DS Homes thousands of dollars in tree removal costs, as well as the expense of planting new trees to meet Arlington County’s requirement that tree canopies cover 20 percent of a redeveloped property within 20 years of construction. “It was a whole lot better that we saved the tree,” said Nichols. “It is so appealing — and a heck of a conversation piece.”
In fact, the oak, and what it represented, was one of the key attractions for the buyers of the new house, Nicholas and Lisa Solinger. “We had lived in a similar older neighborhood in Minnesota, with a similarly grand tree in the front yard,” said Nicholas Solinger. He found an article about the neighborhood petition to save the tree, he said. “We were just tickled by the tree and the story itself of the neighborhood coming together.”
The Solingers hung a tire swing from one of the tree’s massive branches for their two boys to play on, and they and their friends are loving it.
The tree’s immense canopy offers shade, and the oak also intercepts tens of thousands of gallons of rainwater that otherwise would pour each year into storm sewers and streams — and perhaps into basements.
What’s frustrating to Arlington’s many tree lovers, though, is that such stories are unusual. “It’s rare to preserve of tree of this specialness,” said Arlington County’s acting urban forest manager Vincent Verweij. The key to preserving the Nottingham Street Willdenow’s oak? Neighborhood activism, Verweij said.
“For me and for this neighborhood, it has become a unifying emblem, and a reminder of this area’s past,” said Kelso. “I hope it will serve as encouragement to others who want to do the same thing in their neighborhoods.”
The writer is a member of Arlington County’s Urban Forestry Commission.