Arlington Tree Action Group (ATAG)
Advocating for Trees in Arlington
For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Angela Dickey at:
ARLINGTON COUNTY ABDICATES RESPONSIBILITY
IN LANDMARK ENVIRONMENTAL CASE
Arlington, Virginia – August 16, 2018. On August 15, 2018, the Arlington County Board released a letter stating that the County would allow a developer to remove a State Champion Dawn Redwood tree located in a Resource Protection Area (RPA) in Arlington. The letter, signed by Acting Chair Christian Dorsey and Member John Vihstadt, asserts that although the tree is a State Champion tree and located in a Resource Protection Area (RPA), there is little they can do to protect these resources. They claim that under Virginia law and applicable Arlington County Code provisions, “the developer has considerable rights as a private property owner to redevelop and subdivide the property, and in this instance, to remove this tree.”
This is a landmark case, and the County’s failure to protect a champion tree in an RPA sets a terrible precedent. (See June 25, 2018, ATAG press release “At Risk: State Champion Tree in Resource Protection Area,”https://arlingtontreeactiongroup.org/sample-page/atag-press-release-at-risk-state-champion-tree-in-resource-protection-area.) The County has decided not to use the powers at its disposal in its own Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance (CBPO). In failing to make a decision in favor of the environment and the voices of concerned residents, the County puts at risk its own widely touted “progressive” credentials in environmental protection.
The fate of this unusual tree specimen and the delicate environmental area in which it sits has attracted unprecedented attention from Arlington citizens. More than 1,000 people signed a petition urging the County to protect the tree. The president of the Williamsburg Civic Association, which represents the neighborhood where the tree and RPA are located, advocated for these precious natural resources in a letter to the County. The County Urban Forestry Commission weighed in, stating the tree “is magnificent and worthy of preserving.” Yet in the face of such unequivocal citizen input, the County granted a land disturbance permit for a plan that allows removing the tree while providing little information on the ultimate fate of the RPA.
The letter does not mention that the Arlington Chesapeake Bay Ordinance applies to RPA permit enforcement. The CBPO allows the County to seek an injunction on plans that jeopardize RPAs. It requires that RPAs be designated near streams whose waters flow into the Bay. Boththis tree and the RPA in question are vital assets to protect the air and water quality in the immediate neighborhood, Arlington County, and the Bay watershed.
The letter does not provide reassurances of how the RPA, which runs the length of the lot, will be protected once the lot is subdivided. ATAG will be looking for answers.
Letter from the Arlington County Board:
Aug 15 at 4:39 PM
On behalf of the County Board, we are providing an update on the Dawn Redwood tree located at 3260 N Ohio Street. You have expressed concern about this issue, and we want to ensure you are informed of the status.
As you are aware, the tree is located on private property that was purchased in April 2018 by a developer, Richmond Custom Homes. Although the tree is in a Resource Protection Area (RPA), under Virginia law and applicable County Code provisions, the developer has considerable rights as a private property owner to redevelop and subdivide the property, and in this instance, to remove this tree.
After County staff’s careful review of the plans submitted by Richmond Custom Homes, the land disturbance permit for the plan has been administratively approved. The developer’s plan includes removing the tree, demolishing the existing home, and building a new home with the associated utilities on the portion of the lot where the tree stands. The developer submitted a justification for removal of the tree that included an analysis of alternate layouts for the proposed development and summarized the construction impacts that necessitate the tree’s removal . The justification is reasonable and the redevelopment meets all RPA and other code requirements. There is no basis to deny the land disturbance permit.
While staff did ask Richmond Custom Homes to explore options to preserve the tree, the developer could not identify a design that both provided for the subdivision of the property and preserved the Dawn Redwood. Pushing the homes to the rear of the lots would impact other large trees on the property also located within the RPA—and likely still would have jeopardized the Dawn Redwood during construction.
Although the Dawn Redwood will not be preserved, the approved development plan does protect multiple large trees on the back end of the property, which provide a significant benefit to the watershed adjacent to the Little Pimmit Run stream. Also, in alignment with the tree replacement policy of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance, Richmond Custom Homes will replace the lost trees.
We and our colleagues on the Board all wish that there was a way to preserve the tree. More broadly, we understand and share community concerns about the significant pressures on mature trees from redevelopment of properties across the County. Please know that the County will be launching a community process to update our Urban Forest Master Plan and Natural Resources Management Plan early in 2019. We also are exploring new administrative and legislative tools to protect and enhance Arlington’s tree canopy and hope that you will engage with us on all these important initiatives.
Homeowners also can help preserve mature trees on existing properties by applying to the County to designate trees as Specimen or Heritage trees . We also urge community members to join the Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria , or consider applying to join our Urban Forestry Commission .
Again, we thank you for your support of our tree canopy in Arlington. We are honored to serve a community that values our trees as essential to the quality and character of Arlington.
Christian Dorsey, Acting Chair
John Vihstadt, Member
Arlington County Board