President, Williamsburg Civic Association letter to County Board on behalf of the Dawn Redwood tree

June 22, 2018
Dear County Board members and County Manager,

On behalf of the residents of the WCA and many other residents of Arlington, I am writing to you to plead for the preservation of the mature dawn redwood tree located at 3260 North Ohio Street.  Our residents are shocked and dismayed that we may lose such a magnificent tree, because this tree has been designated as both an Arlington County Champion and a State Champion dawn redwood.  The tree has also been recorded on Arlington’s Registry of Notable Trees.

Please review the facts that are presented in our letter to you.  It is clear that this tree is important to our community and to Arlington County. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the residents, the civic associations, the County Board, and the County staff to use any and all authorities to protect and preserve this Arlington treasure.

Please contact me at 703.298.8716 or for additional information or assistance.  Thank you for your continuing commitment to Arlington County.


Ruth Shearer

President, Williamsburg Civic Association


22 June 2018


Katie Cristol, Chair

Christian Dorsey, Vice Chair

John Vihstadt, Member

Erik Gutshall, Member

Libby Garvey, Member


Arlington County Board

2100 Clarendon Blvd, Suite 300

Arlington, Virginia 22201


Subject:  Dawn Redwood at 3260 North Ohio Street in Arlington

Dear Board Members:

On behalf of the residents in the Williamsburg Civic Association (WCA), I am writing to express our dismay and concerns regarding the proposed removal of a mature dawn redwood tree located at 3260 North Ohio Street.  A large number of residents were recently made aware of the threat to this tree and have asked that the Civic Association make their position known to you.  This tree is located within the WCA and the residents (nearly 800 currently) have signed a petition urging the preservation of this grand tree.  I strongly urge the County Board and the County staff to use every available mechanism, consistent with State and local law, to preserve the tree. 

In early March of this year, Richmond Custom Homes sought permits to demolish a home located at 3260 North Ohio Street, with an intent to construct two 6-bedroom 6-bath homes on the lot.  (Permits LDA 18058, B1800561, and D1800038).   As part of its development plan, the builder proposed the removal of a mature dawn redwood tree. This astonished many residents since the tree has been present on the lot for generations, is in good health, and is located within a Resource Protection Area (RPA).  The tree has been designated as both an Arlington County Champion and a State Champion dawn redwood — the largest tree of its species in the State of Virginia.  When last measured by Arlington’s urban forester, it stood at 114’ with a crown of 60 feet and a circumference of 185 inches.  The tree has also been recorded on the Arlington Registry of Notable Trees — trees chosen because of their maturity, uniqueness of species, and special significance to the neighborhood, among other qualities.   Irrespective of its honors, the Ohio Street dawn redwood is, by any measure, an impressive and majestic tree. 

Based on Arlington’s most recent map of Resource Protection Areas, much of the property at 3260 North Ohio Street(including the Champion dawn redwood) is located within the Little Pimmit Run Branch of the RPA.  The Little Pimmit Run RPA is the only RPA located within our Civic Association.  All RPAs are established and maintained to protect stream quality and reduce erosion.  The dawn redwood appears to fall entirely within the 100’ buffer of the stream bank, and thus within the RPA.  Because of its small size, the RPA is particularly sensitive to the effects of adjacent development.  The mature dawn redwood has adapted well to the site and is tolerant of the wet soils.  The removal of this tree as a result of the proposed development activities would represent a significant loss to the Civic Association and the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The developer has proposed to cutdown a mature State Champion dawn redwood located in this RPA.  The residents of the Civic Association and other Arlington residents feel strongly that this is ill-advised and will jeopardize important environmental protection goals embodied in the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, Arlington’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance (Chapter 61), and Arlington’s Stormwater Manual.

According to Arlington’s most recent Tree Canopy Assessment (2017), the WCA has experienced a slight decline in overall tree canopy in recent decades and the specific site at issue here — the West Branch of Little Pimmit Run — has seen a decline of 5% in the tree canopy in the past 5 years alone.  The Williamsburg Civic Association’s Updated Neighborhood Conservation Plan (2017) lamented the decline in the neighborhood tree canopy occasioned by rapid redevelopment of residential lots.  It described the many environmental and aesthetic benefits provided by mature trees and recommended, among other things, that County staff work closely with developers “during their early review of development plans, to promote tree preservation rather than tree replacement.”  

Even more importantly, state and local laws established the RPAs, including 100’ buffer areas surrounding every local stream, to stabilize and protect the RPA, as well as limit erosion into the stream channel.  Canopies from large trees, such as the mature dawn redwood provide shade, moderate soil and water temperatures, and support aquatic life.  These trees also absorb rainfall and reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients that are carried off by storm water. Indeed, the careful preservation and protection of RPAs, required by the Act, represents a major reason for the improved water quality now observed in the Chesapeake Bay.

I am confident that the County will look closely at the builder’s plans, in light of the very important legal protections granted to trees in RPAs.   State and local law generally prohibit the removal of trees in RPAs, to preserve precisely the substantial environmental benefits discussed above.  I would like to highlight that the rare occasions where tree removal may be legally permitted — such as to preserve reasonable vistas or improve shoreline erosion control projects — do not appear to be applicable here.  Given the very large development site, it is not likely that the builder can reasonably argue that application of the RPA buffer would result in the loss of a “reasonable buildable area,” or seek a modification or encroachment into the buffer on such grounds.  In the unlikely event that an encroachment or buffer modification is contemplated, the mandated water quality impact assessment specifically requires that the “design of the plan to preserve to the greatest extent possible any significant trees and vegetation on the site.”  Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance Section 61-12.C.3.c.(2).  

On behalf of the residents of the Williamsburg Civic Association, I ask that the County Board make every effort to preserve the Champion dawn redwood, consistent with the legal requirements discussed in this letter.  This magnificent tree provides important environmental benefits to Arlington and to the Chesapeake Bay.  Perhaps most important to our community, this tree represents a major aesthetic attraction in our urban landscape.  The tree is stately, thriving, and establishes a sense of place and continuity in a rapidly changing County.  The loss of such a prized and recognized tree would be a tragedy, not only to this community but also to Arlington and to Virginia!


Ruth Shearer

President Williamsburg Civic Association (WCA)