The loss of Arlington’s mature tree canopy isn’t inevitable, it’s a choice.

Suzanne Smith Sundburg, May 29, 2018


I’ve gone through point by point regarding the voluntary decisions that the county has made and keeps making. The county has a number of options with respect to storm-water management and its application of Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act rules that could enable it to preserve more trees, at the very least on public land, without any help from Richmond. But Arlington consistently makes choices that place trees and the environment dead last.
  • As we’ve seen time and again (Ashlawn Elementary, Lubber Run Community Center site, Donaldson Run’s Tributary B and now Upton Hill, collectively representing a loss of over 380 mature trees), the state provides extensive loopholes that permit the cutting of an unlimited number of trees within or abutting RPAs on public land. No one forces Arlington to exploit these loopholes — this is a choice that elected officials and staff make.
  • No one forces the Arlington County Board to adopt weak use permits for projects on public land. And no one prevents staff from enforcing use permit requirements approved by the board. (Well, maybe the board or the manager lets staff know that enforcing the rules will get them in hot water.)
  • No one is stopping Arlington from identifying and protecting more than just the 10  existing specimen trees on its own public lands countywide (the only tree designation in Arlington that carries any protection for a tree). In fact, private property owners have safeguarded 16 specimen trees on private land.
  • No one forces Arlington to choose more expensive and less sustainable “gray” man-made stormwater management and detention systems rather than preserving the free, sustainable natural systems already in place (aka using “non-structural BMPs“).

See p. 11 of “Tree Canopy Outcome Management Strategy 2015–2025” at

“Work with stormwater program managers (federal/state/local) to better integrate urban tree canopy and riparian buffer goals with TMDL/WIP implementation and MS4 programs”

See also a Chesapeake Bay Program webinar back in 2016: “Urban Tree Canopy Expansion and Urban Forest Planting BMPs” at

  • And no one forced Arlington to forego implementing lot coverage restrictions for multifamily properties. That was a voluntary choice. Arlington has also been free to require minimum landscaping percentages for its commercially zoning categories, as it does for the R-C zoning category (10%), but it has chosen not to do so.
  • No one has prevented Arlington from adopting the state’s Use-Value Assessment Program(as has the City of Alexandria and the counties of Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford, among others) to provide an incentive to private property owners to leave at least part of their properties open and undeveloped. If not for this program, we would have little or no remaining farmland or private forests in the state of Virginia. Even some of the poorest counties in Southwest and Southside Virginia forego vital revenue in order to preserve these undeveloped lands.
  • No one has stopped Arlington from acquiring more land to preserve as public open space and wildlife habitat. The proposed POPS/Public Spaces Master Plan says 204 natural acres are necessary, but delays funding and acquisition of these lands until 2025 or 2035 — when there is no guarantee that any such parcels will still exist.
  • No one has prevented Arlington from more aggressively educating residents on the benefits of historic preservation, the meaningful designation that protects and preserves the landscape and not just the buildings on the site.

Rather than looking for ways to preserve trees and restore natural infrastructure that benefits not only wildlife but also human health, Arlington County hides behind excuses to justify raping the environment. The loss of Arlington’s mature tree canopy isn’t inevitable, it’s a choice.