County should start over on Draft Public Spaces Master Plan

August 31, 2017

Dear Ms. Lazic,

I am writing to provide my comments on the Draft plan provided online, however, the difficulty of using your comment applications has required me to provide these in writing instead.  As a member of the Arlington Tree Action Group, I have already submitted overview comments to you on August 28, 2017.  I see fundamental problems with the approach as well as the content.  I will outline some more specific concerns in this letter, however, I find the document so completely lacking that I urge the Board and Manager to start over from the beginning with new processes and strategic directions.  I would also like to endorse the comments provided to you on August 11, 2017 by Suzanne Smith Sundburg that raise many more important considerations.

  • Overview. This plan does not show logical coordination between the departments that are involved in implementing it.  There must be consistency across County functions and plans. The County should develop a cross-cutting public spaces and resources master plan that includes all key parties.  The joint facilities planning that is underway is a step in the right direction in that it does not separate consideration of schools, parks facilities, operations, offices and other County facilities.  Without this coordination before the plan is implemented, the results will not be worth the paper it’s printed on as far as value a citizen can enjoy.

Too much time and space is devoted to things like deck parks, park signage, investment in multi-use facilities, adding extra fields, roof spaces, wall spaces, privately-owned spaces, dog runs, concessions and alcohol, LEEDS buildings, etc. when folks have said their outdoor needs are natural areas and trees. Why aren’t there more options and discussions about how this can be accomplished?  The soccer leagues (many of whom are not primarily Arlington players) and bicycle advocates have received disproportionate consideration over the last decade in public space planning and facilities.  It is now time to turn toward other desires of the citizens that have been sorely neglected for decades.

  • Page v – Priority Action 1.6 mentions citizen support for trees but they are not included in the actions outlined on page 97. The actions are vague gobbledygook about improving public access to the waterways to make them more accessible.  There is no mention of “maintaining or preserving existing trees and natural areas”. In fact, the Department of Environmental Services (DES) has been aggressively pursuing stream “restoration” removing hundreds of trees using techniques the no longer are supported by scientific evidence or common logic.  In Donaldson Run alone, 81 trees are to be removed and 52 endangered by such a project but the i-Tree model used by Parks and Recreation documenting the benefits lost from such removal has never been run on the project. Nor has any calculation been done on the impact of removing over 100 trees at Lubber Run.  Adding hard surfaces to Donaldson Run trails would further degrade the natural area unnecessarily because some portions are already paved giving access to handicapped and others.
  • Page v – Priority Action 3.1 to update the Natural Resources Management Plant does not mention trees, is not updated until after completion of this Plan, and is not coordinated with it. There is nothing more on page 120, so how can the high priority for natural resources wanted by the citizens be achieved if the Natural Resources Master Plan is not updated to reflect the 2016 survey results? On page 122, Priority Action3.3.4 calls for the creation of more “hiking” trails.  What are these and how do these affect trees?
  • Page v – Priority Action 3.2 to update the 2004 Urban Forest Master Plan has the same problem.  It is not recommended until after this Public Spaces plan is completed, not in concert with it.
  • Page 2 – Trees and natural areas are listed as important public spaces here but get little attention in terms of specific actions throughout the document. Many pages devoted the proper signage in parks, but little concern or specific actions toward the preservation of the resources that are coming to see.
  • Pages 11 – 13 Says: “Nature’s services” ultimately reduce infrastructure costs as they conserve soils in flood‐prone areas, reduce heat island effects, reduce air and water pollution and reduce energy costs for cooling.” This section discusses the environmental and economic benefits of trees and green spaces that is not reflected in the actions. The County has a fiduciary responsibility to protect the $1.4 billion in value of these trees.
  • Page 17 –The urban forest master plan from 2004 has not been implemented and has been ignored for 13 years.  Complete top to bottom revision is needed in parallel with this Plan
  • Page 22 – importance of trees has been reinforced in the Lee Highway master planning and should be reflected in the actions taken under the PSMP.  Preserving and planting street trees in public spaces is an important component
  • Page 43 – Because Arlington County is the largest owner of land, it is essential that the government conserve these resources.  The 40% tree canopy in existing public space is irreplaceable.  Current practice of justifying tree removal with planting programs is a sham.  Small trees will take decades to replace mature trees, if they are able to at all.  With large numbers of tree in public space like Donaldson Run (81 planned, 52 endangered, similar numbers removed in previous projects), Lubber Run (over 100 removed plus endangered), Four Mile Run (? How many?), and many other County projects underway, the damage is continuing and there is a responsibility to curb it.
  • Page 47 – Talks about the importance of trees to high density areas, but there are no action plans for how to increase the number of trees in these areas
  • Page 51 – Discusses the importance of street trees, but there are no subsequent actions to be sure planting street trees is part of any public spaces projects.
  • Pages 64-66 – The Strategic Directions identified do not reflect the results of the survey.  They seem to bring in directions that have little to do with the desires expressed in the survey.  They seem to reflect views of County staff and their narrow concerns about continuing with programs they are currently involved with rather than broadening and revising their directions to reflect the real future needs and desires of the citizens.
  • Page 69 – Public spaces action item 1.6. This assumes that there is not adequate access to tributaries of the Potomac throughout Arlington.   While some may benefit from greater access, many are natural areas where additional access will degrade the natural nature of the area.  Donaldson Run is one of these areas where visual and physical access is more than adequate and further development would degrade the natural areas.
  • Page 70. – The goas of only 30 acres of new public space over 10 years is ridiculously low given the needs of the County.  Through condemnation and deals with developers, much more space could and should be acquired.
  • Page 70 – Priority Action 1.1.2 Should be implemented noting the importance of a network of green streets that are tree-lined as part of the plan
  • Page 72- Priority Action 1.1.5.  Easements have been acquired for a number of project that have nothing to do with enhancing waterways as natural resources.  Donaldson Run is a good example where trees are removed for unsubstantiated storm water purposes that have nothing to do with preserving these areas for real natural resource purposes.
  • Page 87 – Casual use spaces include trees as shown in the picture.  Why aren’t trees part of the plan then?
  • Page 88 Context Sensitive, activity-based approach to planning. More gobbledygook!  Just protect and expand the natural areas and trees and that will satisfy the real needs of the citizens.  Population-based standards are quantitative alternatives to listening and responding to the expressed desires of citizens.  Easy to do on computer in an office, but not effective in real life.
  • Page 97 – Priority Action 1.6.1 only mentions access to waterways, not preserving the natural areas and trees near them. Is this really all that you can come up with when 64% said it was their highest outdoor priority? Access to Donaldson Ru is more than adequate now. This is not a stretch that needs more “improvements”.  It needs more effort to protect it and extend the size of the existing natural area.  The planned stream “restoration” project is working against all that is hoped for by the citizens.
  • Page 102 – Promoting tress as a strategic direction 1.8.6 says: Arlington’s tree canopy provides many economic and environmental benefits; increasing tree cover will also help advance the goals laid out in the Urban Forest Master Plan. (See also 3.2.2.)”  But nothing is proposed as a goal.
  • Page 108 – 2.1 Expand multi-use trail network. The County needs to set design standards for trails that include tree planting and preservation of trees and natural areas.  The proposed “outer loop” of multi-use trails in Donaldson Run park is in direct conflict with preserving trees and natural areas. Already, too much of the trails in this park are paved.  They are little used by bikers and access is still available for handicapped and others.  The existing paths are extensively used by walkers, runners, dogs, children, etc. who are disturbed by the few bikers whizzing downhill at speeds that are not compatible with casual enjoyment of the trails. The extension on paved surfaces will also only contribute to the existing problem with storm water runoff and loss of the natural feel of the area. The bikers should be rerouted on existing paved streets. This is consistent with the goal on page 112 to make the paths safe for all users.  The action item 2.3.1 is a very weak attempt at addressing this concern.
  • Page 112. Ensure trails function for a range of users.  Throughout the system, bikers are creating problems for other users.  As a biker myself, I want to use the trails, however, the County needs to impose and enforce strict speed regulations and other courtesy requirements to ensure the safety of all users.
  • Page 119 and following pages in Resource Stewardship section – many items aimed at “developing” these areas to varying degrees for additional uses without mentioning how they will balance this with preserving trees in natural areas.
  • Page 125 – in the Resource Stewardship section 3.4.2 mentions promoting tree canopy but punts to the Urban Forestry Plan so there is no real direction or timetable
  • Page 126 – strategic direction to expand programs like Notable Trees and Champion trees sounds great but who will do this? Is this another talk without action?
  • Page 128 – Action 3.8 promotes volunteerism as a strategic direction to promote stewardship and planting native trees.  Does this mean the County makes no commitment to do these things despite the priority citizens put on it?
  • Page 143 – Action 5.5 regarding commitment to public health and wellness does not mention the contribution of trees and natural areas.
  • Page 161 – Making use of available planting space for trees on public lands such as traffic islands and curb bump-outs is a real actionable item  Need many more of these.

Items that got recommended actions in Action Plan:

  • Action Plan Items 1.8.6 & 3.4.2 promoting planting, preservation and maintenance of trees on public and private lands received less than $100,000 combined.  These were the highest rated needs and got little to no real money
  • Item 3.4.6– Action plan for Notable and Champion trees – an equal amount to preservation and maintenance?  Does this make sense?
  • Item 3.6.1 – Only part of a volunteer Action plan for continuing to look for opportunities to plant trees that would receive less than $25,000
  • Item 7.1.9 – Action plan to review tree maintenance and update standards allocated less than $100,000.
  • Item 7.2.7 – Action plan to use traffic islands, curb bump outs and other public land for tree planting allocated less than $100,00

These are just a few of the serious problems with this Plan.  I urge the County to start over and include the abundant resources on the citizens of Arlington County to get the strategic directions right and implementation that is practical.

Mary Glass

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