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Arlington: Come Get Your Free Trees

by ARLnow.com September 27, 2011 at 11:59 am 5,925 64 Comments

The Arlington County Parks and Natural Resources Division is offering free saplings to any resident interested in planting a tree in his or her yard.

The county is offering one tree per household and up to five trees for groups like condo/homeowner’s associations, churches, civic associations or other neighborhood organizations. Among the available species are large trees like American sycamores, black oaks, black gum/tupelos, cherrybark oaks, red maples, yellow poplars and Virginia pines. Smaller tree offerings include serviceberries, staghorn sumacs, winterberry hollies and American witch hazels.

A PDF list of tree species, their growth requirements, estimated measurements and other attributes is available on the county’s web site.

Offering a variety of species “will increase the resistance of our tree canopy to disease and pests, as well as increasing the habitat available for birds, butterflies, and wildlife,” according to the parks department.

Anyone interested in planting a tree is asked to reserve it online.

Saplings will be available for pickup between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on the weekend of Oct. 15 and 16, at the county nursery — located behind the Barcroft Recreation Center at 4200 S. Four Mile Run Drive. TreeStewards and county staff will be on hand with information about tree care. They will also help load the saplings — some of which are up to 6 feet tall — into vehicles.

  • Thes

    Nice thing for the county to do. Relatively inexpensive, and takes advantage of volunteer resources. A long-term investment in our community.

  • ArlingtonCountyTaxpayer

    Great Program.

    HOWEVER, nothing is free. These trees are paid for with DENSITY. Arlington gives developers DENSITY and Arlington Citizens get sapling trees to offset paving everything.

    Yes they are FREE to you specifically. But they are being paid for by increased DENSITY and funds that developers have to put into the Tree Fund in order to get their projects blessed and approved.

    • Thes

      Um, right. Like the density that developers got when they converted 75% of Arlington from farmland into suburban homes, and which are not planned to be re-developed again anytime in the next generation or two.

      • Answer Man

        Yet a suburban home has trees and greenspace. I think he is referring to high density, specifically around Metro.

        By the way, Pentagon City and Crystal City were not farms. They were swamps.

        • Thes

          A.C.T. was referring to development around the Metros? But they didn’t have may trees to begin with — they’ve been built on or paved since WWII, if not earlier. That doesn’t make any sense.

    • ArlingtonCountyTaxpayer

      my point is that nothing is “free”

      the trees that are being provided today are paid for by density over the last few years — which is, i think, mostly high density transit oriented. (the developers before WWII did not contribute to the fund that pays for the trees today, I’m pretty sure.)

      The majority of development around the METRO has been on sites that were heavily treed. Check out this picture of a beautiful single family neighborhood in 1989 that is now over priced TH’s stacked on top of each other and nothing left of the gorgeous old trees (it is Fall in the pic) and just stupid bradford pear ornamental trees.

      Save the animals. Save the trees.

      • Thes

        Sorry, Charlie. Looks like more trees in the second picture.

        • ArlingtonCountyTaxpayer

          um no. fewer trees. and lesser trees.

          • CW

            I too lament the loss of the large, old-growth trees. Unfortunately there was not continuous planting to have trees maturing at the time of removal/death of the old ones. The developers do seem to get away too easily. These recent storms have not helped either.

            That said, your blasting of density is somewhat inane. People want to live here. Nothing can be “overpriced” if someone is willing to pay the price that’s being asked. First rule of economics. And, if there weren’t this density that you hate so much, the area wouldn’t have such a huge depth of a workforce from which to draw, which means a lot of the big employers here would have been forced out or never moved here. Arlington would either be a sleepy town of government drones like in your golden era of the 1950’s, or it would be like beverly hills where limited supply keeps the prices even higher than they are now. One or the other, hard to speculate.

          • ArlintonCountyTaxpayer

            i never said I don’t like density.
            i just wish people would realize where things come from and what is the price.
            I’ve seen people in my community grubbing and practically fighting for these free trees on neighborhood day. the same people who are opposed to and fight against any building over two stories.
            the irony is overwhelming.
            I’m only making one point: nothing is free.

      • Tre

        Needs more diagram

      • drax

        Yes, so to replace those trees, we have…free trees.

        Meanwhile, the dense development means less low-density development out in the far-out ‘burbs where lots more trees would get cut down for it.

        Net gain of trees.

        • Tre

          but those trees aren’t as wealthy as Arlington trees

          • Richard Cranium

            There you go again inciting class warfare.

        • Alfred Jenkins

          Yet those houses would have lawns, bushes, flowers, and can be built into trees rather than paved over for a high rise offering nothing but polluted runoff. Two sides to every issue.

          • CW

            Drax is 100% right. If you took all the residents of a high-rise and flattened that density out into single family homes, the net loss of trees would be higher. Duh. Not a hard back-of-the-envelope calculation to do. Ooh, and let’s go and count the carbon emissions due to the increased transit distance to work, too!

            There actually aren’t two sides to this issue, just two groups of people. One of them happens to be ignorant.

          • If you are talking row after row of suburban house, then I’d agree with you to some extent. Mostly on the transit issue. Take a look at any smaller town or semi-rural area. You won’t have the traffic problems or the runoff problems that an urban area (including suburban) have. Less dense does not have to mean suburban. That could be what Alfred meant. The ignorance is not realizing there are more choices than urban or suburban. You can be so much greener living in the country. It’s your choice.

          • Jskin

            I’d rather have high rises in a city with proper storm water management programs, than the urban sprawl & traffic issues created by the suburbs. Those suburbs could be forests & marshland…which is much better than millions of acres of single family homes with huge grass yards, expending huge amounts of energy…just saying.

      • drax

        Bradford pears suck.

      • Michael H.

        High-density, transit-oriented development is better than urban/suburban sprawl, with mile after mile of 8-lane highways connecting far-flung towns. They cut down plenty of trees for highway projects. Or would you actually prefer that Arlington have another I-66 and 395 running through it?

        • Jskin


      • Ray

        I actually think the “after” picture is a much more appealing landscape. Like Western Europe.

    • RosRes

      Awesome! Free TREES and more DENSITY. Both good things for ARLINGTON!!

    • drax

      Good. Density is good. Saves even more trees.

      • charlie

        esp. those pre-World War II trees.

      • Alfred Jenkins

        Extremely high density of any one species can kill an ecosystem. High school biology.

        • Jskin

          Then everyone needs to stop having babies. Problem solved.

    • yequalsy

      It’s the McMansions that are wiping out the mature trees more so than increased density. McMansions dramatically decrease the amount of permeable surface (leading to more runoff and greater flooding problems ) while wiping out the county’s grandest trees. All while adding little to no density. (Sometimes developers will cram three houses onto a two-house lot, so there’s some added density. Woo hoo!) As others have noted adding density has many benefits. McMansions, in contrast, are a scourge.

      • Thes

        Yes. This is exactly why we should have better regulation of builders and developers in this County. But Richmond makes that very hard.

        • Steve

          What would you suggest to better regulate builders and developers?

      • charlie

        the recent enacted ordinances on coverage, height, garage placement and a few other things have done NOTHING to stem the monster in fill development. NOTHING.
        and while Richmond does restrict Arlington, the above were all well within arlingotn’s enabling legislation. the county board just wimped out and gave in to the developers.
        don’t blame richmond, blame 2100 clarendon.

        • Thes

          What new regulations would you suggest Arlington enact on development?

          • charlie

            i think steve asked you first.

            we should ban driveways. swimming pools. mandate smaller footprints of the houses; tree preservation ordinance with dramatic fines for trees dying within five years of construction (bond it, that’s how); let buildings get higher not fatter to meet market (the height restrictions we have just make buildings bigger, plus everyone is gaming them anyways).

            and your ideas?

          • Thes

            Progressive taxation on houses based on square footage, for one.

            And I see some inconsistency with your claim that Arlington’s recent restrictions on coverage have done “nothing” to address the issue, when it did exactly what you seem to have called for: restricting driveways and mandating smaller footprints.

          • Roland

            So you would take part of the subjective tools of the assessor out of the equation? Because size is something that drives your assessment, which makes the real estate tax already somewhat progressive. I think you would have a hard time selling that as a politician.

            Or were you talking about a one-time tax on the builder or developer based on house size? That is more like a “fee”. They already pay progressive fees scheduled on project size, such as drainage fixture connection fees based on the number of plumbing fixtures connected in a house.

            Builders also pay sales tax on their building materials, which makes the size of a construction job already kind of progressively taxed.

            Should we even be surprised that when asked for new ideas for regulating development that the first idea a liberal would come up with is actually just another redundant tax? That is not solving the problem you pretend to be concerned about, it is just looking for another way for government to extract profits from the private sector. It is somewhat intellectually dishonest as well.

          • Charlie

            Houses are already taxed on their sf. 1000 sf house pays less than 2000 sf house. IF u r suggesting a different tax rate that s DOA.

            I do not agree that the new laws have worked. People still aren’t happy. Developers ave learned to game the new system. Big ugly oversized houses are still being built. it doesn’t work.

          • Zoning Victim

            Really, so my neighbors who have more square footage than I do but have three generations of their family all living there working middle income jobs and pooling their money to pay for the home should have to pay a higher tax rate than I do?

          • Zoning Victim

            I’m not sure I understand how making people swap their driveways for usable square footage in their house is supposed to help anything, anyway. If I turn my driveway into two tiny tire sized strips to keep my footprint down, I still can’t plant a tree between them.

            Have you ever heard of landowners’ rights? The government taking away the buildable portion of someone’s property and not compensating them for it under eminent domain is just plain wrong. I didn’t see Richmond stepping in to stop that from happening. Furthermore, it will make the problem you’re fighting to solve worse. If rich people can’t buy their big beautiful homes here, they will simply go to where they can have their big beautiful homes, and that’s going to create more sprawl, fewer trees and more wasted fuel. It would also force out the affluent taxpayers and hurt property values, which would leave Arlington with two choices: cut spending severely or raise taxes on the people who are left.

            You can’t force everybody that wants a lot of square footage and a nice new place to live in a condo. Many people have no interest in living in a condo. To begin with, they’re extremely expensive places to live for a comparable amount of square footage and offer far less privacy than a freestanding home does. They have an inadequate amount of parking for the lifestyles of many people and offer no place where children can play outside while their parents are inside and still have the parent close enough to the children to supervise them.

            These regulations have nothing to do with developers, it has to do with the people who want to live in these houses and the people who own property that’s large enough to support the development of large homes. The only reason developers build these homes is because people want them.

          • CW

            Less regulations! Landowners rights! Yeah! Wouldn’t want to turn it into the kind of sprawl you see in this picture, taken way out in the commuter suburbs.

            Oh wait, that picture was taken in Clarendon? Never mind.

          • Zoning Victim

            Putting bigger houses in Clarendon isn’t adding to sprawl. It’s simply something you don’t like aesthetically, so you try to find reasons to demonize the practice. Do you own property in Arlington?

          • CW

            The comment was more addressed at those saying that single-family homes were better in terms of preserving green space as opposed to multi-unit buildings. The discussion was not about bigger houses, it was about houses so big relative to their lots that there is zero green space and no trees.

            If you’re asking if I own a residence, while it is immaterial to the argument, I am not so lucky. But I can say that if I were to come into the means to do so, I would not be purchasing something like that.

            According to the county, though, I DO own property in Arlington. I pay my personal property tax. 🙂

          • CW

            Also, given your user name, it’s not particularly hard to guess at where you might stand on this pet issue. I’m assuming you’ve lived here a very long time and had all those dern new kids movin in and screwin up the neighborhood?

          • charlie

            ZV: here is one reason why it is stupid and doesn’t work — your idea to turn your driveway into two tiny streets — which would be good for the environment and an attractive design option — WILL NOT give you decreased coverage. because the county will count the area of the driveway and NOT remove the grass strip down the middle.

          • Zoning Victim

            Haha, I’ve owned my home for a while (I doubt I’m as old as you think I am based on your statement), but no, that’s not why I call myself Zoning Victim on here. My problem is with the zoning administrator and her propensity to make life as difficult as possible for people. She’s infamous for making the zoning process difficult and combative, and she’s earned her infamy; this I know firsthand.

            I agree that high-rises take up less green space per person, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s less taxing on the environment. Look at everything that goes into building one of those monstrosities of concrete and steel from the standpoint of how much energy is used between the mining of the non-renewable raw materials and the development of those into concrete and steel and the incredible amount of energy that goes into digging a two to three story deep hole, trucking out all of that dirt, trucking all of the materials to build one of those places in and putting it all together. I wonder if the savings in terms of the environmental impact is really as great is it’s purported to be. I remain unconvinced that it does much good to save a bunch of trees if in that endeavor you have to create more pollution than those trees could ever consume in our lifetime.

            Whether or not you own property isn’t completely immaterial to the argument because it’s always easy to ask the government to devalue everyone’s real estate if you don’t own any. People have a right to build on their property within the limitations of the zoning regulations. I can assure you that if you perceive these houses as a problem, it isn’t a problem because of a lack of regulations. They’ve already taken our property down from 51% buildable to 40% buildable (including accessory buildings and driveways/parking pads) and capped the entire footprint for the main building at 2,520 sq. ft. Furthermore, those buildings in R-6 areas are supposed to have side yard setbacks of 20ft. Houses that are built very close to each other in R-6 districts are because the BZA will sometimes grant variances or special use permits to people so they can build houses on lots that wouldn’t be able mind the setbacks because of some non-typical feature of the lot. They will usually only grant variances / special use permits when the surrounding neighbors all support the project; that said, the BZA is very tough on the maximum lot coverage rules, which is more of what you are speaking to when you talk about the total amount of green area. If the neighbors support these types of houses with small setbacks, I don’t have any problem with them being built.

            Some houses like the ones in the picture you provided are built in pockets specifically to create density. The locations are given special zoning designations. While you may not find these places attractive, it’s not like the county is just doing it to appease the builders. There is a demand for houses like this, and if you want to keep houses like this out of the neighborhoods, areas like this have to be part of the overall planning for the county.

          • CW

            Your statement regarding the zoning is insightful. The picture was more directed towards ArlingtonCountyTaxpayer, who was lamenting the loss of SFHs. I am curious, however, where you say that these box-houses were likely built with the permission of the neighbors. What is the definition of neighbor? How does this work when a developer buys a lot and further subdivides it? For some reason, I have the feeling that most neighbors would not approve. If, instead, it’s like you mentioned at the end, where the county is trying to create density, well then in my opinion that is a failed policy due to the loss of green space and that should be considered.

            I’m not suggesting that anyone’s real estate be devalued. I just think that Arlington, if it’s going to give out new trees, should be a little tougher on trying to keep existing ones around.

            Also, regarding high-rises, I’m pretty sure that the economies of scale do make it more environmentally friendly than a similar number of single family homes. Shared walls, single runs of larger diameter plumbing instead of many smaller runs, etc. Even with all the concrete I think it comes out on top. And, while concrete and other materials are collected and processed once, green space keeps giving back.

          • Zoning Victim

            The Zoning Ordinance specifically forbids subdividing or shrinking a property in any way to a point where you end up under the minimum lot size (either in width or area) for its zoning district. I don’t know of any case in which this ordinance wasn’t honored, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. They’d have to get a variance to make it happen.

            When you go for a variance / special use permit, the BZA puts notices of your impending hearing in the newspaper, sends letters to all of your immediate neighbors and posts notices around your neighborhood. Anyone who wishes to can show up and request to comment at your BZA hearing, which means they can dissent if they so choose. The BZA members will ask where you live and I believe they put a lot more weight into the opinions of the people who live close to the property in question. It works the same way whether you’re a builder or a homeowner and no matter what ordinance you are asking to “change.” The BZA will still strike down projects they don’t think should be in a residential neighborhood even if all of your immediate neighbors support it and there are no dissenters.

            It’s an amazingly expensive, time consuming and frustrating process.

            I hope you’re right about condos being a net win, but the unfortunate fact is they cost about twice what a home costs. For the $650,000-$700,000 they want for a 1,000 sq. ft. 2BR 2BA condo with one parking space in Clarendon, I can buy a recently remodeled 1,400-1,700 sq. ft. 4 BR 3BA home with a, 1000 sq. ft. basement and a garage. Then there is the $1,000 condo fee that I could be putting toward my mortgage. They’re just not a good deal if you ask me.

  • Veeta

    Maybe now the county will notice that the email address provided on their link does not work. When you fill out the form, you do not receive any kind of confirmation, so there is no way to know if you will actually get the tree you request.
    It is a great program though–a lot of the older large trees are not being replaced at an adequate rate, and trees make a neighborhood!

  • Granny Clampett

    I wish they were offering Paw-Paw trees.

  • John Fontain

    Wow, those trees are going fast. Was hoping to pick up a sweet bay magnolia, but dang gonnit they’re all gone. Pickin up a winterberry holly instead.

    Thanks ARLnow for the tip. The county tree folks are probably going to be surprised at the increase in demand from your mention of this program.

    • CW

      Million dollar homes but will trample over each other to jump on a free sapling. Then will probably pay someone to water the thing. I love it.

      • John Fontain

        Funny and true!

  • JimPB

    Plant fruit trees. Same benefits as other trees, but with the additional offerings of fresh, hopefully organic fruit immediately at hand. (And you can help feed birds, e.g., with cherries, and squirrels, e.g., with pears.)

  • steve85

    It should say “Arlington come get your free termites”

    • John Fontain


      • drax

        He didn’t actually think it through that far.

      • steve85

        where you have trees you have termites

        • Barney Rubble

          …..and birds, squirrels, shade, oxygen.

        • Josh S

          I think we should throw steve85 a party. Dude consistently provides the biggest guffaws at this site. Hip hip hooray!

    • Alfred Jenkins

      That is ridiculous.


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