Arlington tree canopy

Map shows updates to amount of tree canopy found in various communities across Arlington. (Arlington County government)

The Arlington County Civic Federation in December will weigh in on the development plan of Upton Hill Regional Park and, more broadly, on Arlington government policies on retaining or removing trees during redevelopment on public land.

A resolution demanding a temporary halt to current development plans at Upton Hill was introduced at the Civic Federation’s Nov. 13 meeting and will be debated and voted on Dec. 4.

“We’re gravely concerned” about the Upton Hill plan, said Barbara Wien, secretary of the Bluemont Civic Association, pointing to more than 60 trees that will be removed (although others have been planted elsewhere on the site).

Passage of a Civic Federation resolution likely would have no practical impact, as Upton Hill is under control of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks). Members of the Arlington County Board have said they have neither the power nor desire to micromanage the regional body’s decision-making.

“At some point, it’s going to be [NOVA Parks’] decision, and ultimately we have to accept that they know best for managing their parks inventory,” County Board Vice Chairman Christian Dorsey said at a recent meeting.

But for Wien, the Upton Hill plan is “just the latest insult to injury,” pointing to the County Board’s actions in recent years approving redevelopment on public land, such as at schools and community centers, where mature trees have been taken down.

The resolution up for a December vote should serve as “a template for all your civic associations” in battling tree loss in public projects, Wien told federation delegates.

On private property, the county government’s powers on tree matters depend on whether a development plan is being conducted under existing zoning – “by right” – in which case the local government is handcuffed by state law in acting, or whether the developer wants changes to zoning, in which case the government can negotiate tree preservation. Critics have contended that, in the latter cases, the county government frequently holds private developers to a far more stringent standard than it holds itself or the school system to.

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