Another month has brought another round in the ongoing dispute between tree activists and the Arlington County Board – and much of the give and take on both sides is beginning to sound familiar to the point of repetitious.
Activists in support of expanding the county’s tree canopy were among a number of advocacy groups that descended on the Sept. 22 County Board meeting. Among their chief complaints: The county government hasn’t done anything to prevent the removal of trees during an upcoming expansion project at Upton Hill Regional Park.
“More people are signing by the day” a petition opposing the plan by the Northern Virginia Park Authority (NOVA Parks), said Barbara Wien, secretary of the Bluemont Civic Association.
Because the Upton Hill project is being undertaken by a regional body, the Arlington government has severely limited powers to umpire the dispute between activists and the park authority. NOVA Parks earlier revamped its plan to save additional trees on the site, but dozens are still likely to come down.
As part of the project, NOVA Parks plans to add a climbing wall (and potentially a zip-line feature) at Upton Hill, which straddles the Arlington/Fairfax border along Wilson Boulevard. Plans to construct a second parking lot have been scrapped.
Over the past few months, “the project has been greatly improved,” said County Board Chairman Katie Cristol. “There have been a number of changes to save a great number of trees.”
But not everyone on the dais was satisfied.
“NOVA Parks needs to be much more transparent,” said County Board member John Vihstadt, who is engaged in a tough re-election bid and has been critical of the development plan in the past.
Skirting rules that restrict speakers during public-comment period from addressing the same topic over and over, tree supporters came at the issue of tree canopy from several angles. As has been the case in the past, County Board members said they might more advantageously spend their time pressing their case elsewhere.
“It’s hard to believe how little control we have – we have our hands tied,” said County Board member Libby Garvey, who urged activists to take their concerns to the General Assembly.
Cristol, who likes to find conensus whenever possible, said the county government continues to explore ways to use the powers it does have.
“There’s always more . . . we could be doing to protect our natural resources,” she said. “We will continue our dialogue.”