Advocates for expanding Arlington’s tree canopy say they will take a “deep dive” into the recently issued rationale by county officials why a much-loved tree was allowed to be removed for redevelopment.
County Manager Mark Schwartz has released a four-page letter that essentially backs up previous government contentions that Arlington officials found no legal or practical ways to prevent removal of a dawn redwood in the 3200 block of North Ohio Street when a residential parcel was subdivided for new homes.
Logistical issues associated with the redevelopment “could not be overcome in order to protect and preserve the tree,” Schwartz concluded.
The Arlington Tree Action Group (ATAG), which pushed for the written explanation, says it will study both the legal and logistical rationales offered by the county government to see if they hold water.
“ATAG sees this decision as about more than one tree,” the organization said in a statement. “It is about precedent.”
The property in question is located in a resource-protection area (RPA) under Virginia’s 1988 Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and a related 1992 ordinance enacted by the County Board. While Virginia law generally gives landowners significant rights in redeveloping their land, properties within an RPA do have to conform with some additional regulations.
The county government’s arborist ultimately decided that, in this case, there were too many factors – ranging from the location of underground utilities to the site’s grading – suggesting that even if the tree could be saved, its root structure was likely to be impacted enough to doom the tree.
Negotiations between the county government and developer of the parcel looked at ways to alter the footprint of development, but could not work out a proposal that wouldn’t “result in significant damage to the critical root system of the tree,” Schwartz’s report said.
The report was released May 31, meeting Schwartz’s statement of more than a month before that it likely would be made public before the start of June. ATAG officials say they are planning to discuss the report with outside groups, and also plan to meet with government staff to “discuss the memo in greater detail.”
“It’s vital to explore how the way Arlington implements the Bay Act differs from other jurisdictions in the state,” the organization said in a statement.
For much of 2018, ATAG and other environmental activists tussled with County Board members on tree-related issues, including an ongoing – and largely inconclusive – back and forth over whether the county’s tree canopy had been rising or falling in recent years.
Democratic County Board members pointed a finger of blame at the Republican-controlled General Assembly for not giving localities more power to control development, but the activists were largely dismissive of that excuse, saying Arlington officials simply would not take an aggressive stance on tree preservation.
In addition to rules pertaining to parcels sitting in resource-protection areas, some protections are afforded to trees located in Arlington’s local historic zones. Removal of any tree 15 inches or more in diameter in one of the historic districts must receive approval from the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board. But many Arlington communities lie outside historic districts, so those rules do not apply.