(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) Tree canopy in Arlington County is lower than it was in 2016, according to a new privately-funded study paid for local residents.
The residents, who are involved in Arlington County Civic Federation, Arlington Tree Action Group and EcoAction Arlington, funded the study to how much tree canopy declined since the last county study in 2017.
Based on imaging from 2021, a consultant found that trees cover 33% of land — excluding the Pentagon and Reagan National Airport — down from 41% on the same land six years ago. Coverage ranges by civic association, from 14% in Crystal City to 66% in the county’s northernmost neighborhood of Arlingwood, compared to 26% and 75%, respectively, in 2011.
“It’s really eye-opening,” one of the residents behind the study, Mary Glass, tells ARLnow. “Ideally, the county would have had this, but they didn’t.”
The tree lovers commissioned the study out of frustration with the county for not doing so before beginning work on a Forestry Natural Resource Plan (FNRP).
This updates a 2004 Urban Forest Master Plan and a 2010 Natural Resources Management Plan in one document to address climate change, population growth and threats such as diseases and invasive species, says Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Jerry Solomon. It has an eye toward racial equity and environmental justice, to make sure all residents benefit physically and mentally from Arlington’s natural resources.
Combining the plans “allows us to consider Arlington’s ecosystem holistically and craft a more comprehensive set of recommendations for conservation and resource management in the future,” Solomon said.
During this process, and during the Missing Middle housing discussions that concluded with zoning updates earlier this month, preserving trees from redevelopment was mentioned as a top priority for many residents. (The zoning changes approved by the County Board specifies requirements for shade trees on properties redeveloped with Missing Middle housing.)
To help, volunteers from Marymount University and EcoAction Arlington have been planting trees in the hotter, less leafy parts of Arlington.
Now, Glass says, she hopes people will use the new data when the next Forestry Natural Resource Plan draft is published and ready for community input.
“This information is going to be right there so when the next draft comes out, in the next month or so, we’ll be able to make specific comments and recommendations based on the information we have,” Glass said.
The draft could be ready for community feedback this spring or early summer, Solomon said. The parks department spokesperson added that staff have seen the new study and “are excited about the community’s enthusiasm for our urban forests.”
However, she added, “we have not seen the underlying data and don’t have a full understanding of the methodology. As a result, we cannot speak to any discrepancies without adequately assessing it for accuracy, margin of error, or underlying assumptions.”
The department said it felt comfortable starting the plan update based on the overall downward trends in the previous tree canopy studies. Solomon said the current draft acknowledges and has recommendations for reversing the decline in tree canopy.
Despite marginal fluctuations, from a high of 43% in 2008 to a low of 40% in 2011 and a slight uptick to 41% in 2017, the county says tree coverage in parks is offsetting declining tree coverage on residential properties.
“Knowing this, we decided to prioritize the update of the FNRP in order to identify strategies to reverse that trend and address other environmental challenges sooner rather than later,” she said. Read More
Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that highlights Arlington-based startups, founders, and local tech news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn.
Zero waste delivery service The Rounds is continuing to expand its reach into Arlington with another zip code eligible for direct-to-door deliveries.
This week, the startup announced delivery will serve residents in the 22202 zip code, which covers Pentagon City, Crystal City, Aurora Hills and Arlington Ridge.
The expansion comes after the company tested this market with two pick-up locations it opened last year Movement Crystal City (1235 S. Clark Street) and Alexandria’s Sportrock Climbing Centers (5308 Eisenhower Ave). It also offers pick-up from Compass Coffee in Rosslyn (1201 Wilson Blvd).
In addition to the 22202 zip code, The Rounds delivers to the 22201, 22207 and 22203 zip codes.
Following a $38 million fundraising round last fall, The Rounds announces it is adding produce to its offerings for residents in the D.C. area. Customers can now buy seasonal fruits and vegetables from 4P Foods, a community-shared agriculture company that sources produce directly from local farmers and serves the D.C. area.
After launching in Philadelphia in 2019, the zero-waste delivery service launched in D.C. in late 2021, offering residents “an easy, simple way to live more sustainably” when they purchase staples for their kitchens and cleaning closets, per the press release.
“Based on the traditional ‘milkman’ model, the company delivers all your household essentials — groceries, pantry, household, personal care, pet, and baby products — directly to your door, with no packaging waste,” the company said in a release. “They do this by putting everything in reusable containers and then picking up and reusing your empty containers on a weekly basis.”
Memberships cost $10 per month, plus the price of the products. The brand advertises no delivery fees or other “hidden” fees. People who sign up can customize products and receive their first delivery as soon as next week.
Four privately owned trees of “outstanding size” in Arlington could be protected from future removal or injury.
The owners, who live in the Williamsburg, Cherrydale and Glencarlyn neighborhoods, nominated these trees to be recognized as “specimens” worthy of protection, the county says in a report.
The trees meet criteria for this designation “by virtue of their outstanding size and quality for their particular species,” the report says. The Arlington County Board is set to grant this protection at its meeting this coming Saturday.
Over two decades ago, the Board approved a tree preservation ordinance that provides a four designations — “Heritage, Memorial, Specimen and Street Trees” — through which trees on public or private property can be protected from removal or injury. Some 17 trees are highlighted on the county’s website for their size, condition and heritage.
There are approximately 755,000 trees in Arlington, according to a draft of an update to the county Forestry and Natural Resources plan. The county controls about 120,000 trees, including those in parks and about 19,500 street trees. The remainder grow on private property or on public institutions that are not directly managed by Arlington County.
Protecting private trees is one strategy the county has for maintaining its canopy. For about as long as this ordinance has been in place, and despite redevelopment on private property, tree canopy has covered about 41% of land area in Arlington.
“This level of canopy has remained constant for the past 20 years, largely because significant losses on private property were offset by tree planting and preservation on parks and other public lands,” the plan says.
Arlington will have to rely more on designating and preserving trees, like the four going before the County Board this weekend, going forward, per the plan.
“With little ‘plantable space’ remaining on existing county-owned land, opportunities to offset future losses will be limited by the need to conserve natural areas,” it says.
Trees play an important role in reducing carbon, energy use and runoff.
Tree branches, roots and trunks remove and store about 9,360 tons a year of carbon in Arlington, but that represents “only a fraction of the County’s greenhouse gas emissions,” the plan says.
Tree canopy provides shade, reducing energy use in buildings and transportation and preventing the radiation of heat back into the environment. A recent study found leafier — and often wealthier — Arlington neighborhoods are cooler than its Metro corridors and lower-income areas, a disparity a local nonprofit is working to address.
Tree roots hold soil in place, reducing runoff during rain storms. Since a deluge in 2019 caused extreme flooding, there has been increasing focus on county stormwater infrastructure, as well as concern that trees are lost due to the redevelopment of older homes into larger homes that cover more of a given lot.
Dozens of Arlington Public Schools students now hop aboard the system’s first electric school buses.
When students returned from winter break, the county and APS replaced two of its 190 diesel engine buses with emissions-free “and almost noise-free” battery-powered electric ones, the county has announced.
The first two buses are transporting students with disabilities and can each carry up to 38 students. They are expected to log a typical 8,000 miles annually.
After the buses arrived in November, drivers and mechanics received vendor training. The third bus is expected to arrive by the end of January.
“Officials will study data, driving and service experiences with the new vehicles to explore possible expansion of the [battery electric school buses] inventory,” per the county press release.
The buses were purchased with a $795,000 state grant awarded in 2021. As part of the Clean School Bus Program, 19 Virginia districts were awarded with enough funding to replace a total of 83 diesel buses with electric or propane ones.
“Funding for the grant comes from the Volkswagen (VW) Environmental Mitigation Trust, intended to provide the state with about $93 million to mitigate the excess nitrogen oxide emissions caused by VW’s use of illegal emissions testing defeat devices in certain VW diesel vehicles,” the county said in a press release announcing the funding in August 2021.
The Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services Equipment Bureau services the school system’s fleet of vehicles as well as the county government’s entire fleet, from the Trades Center in Shirlington.
“The County is recognized as a leader in environmental sustainability efforts,” it said in its announcement. “This month, Arlington announced it had achieved its goal of 100% renewable electricity use at all County facilities, two years ahead of schedule.”
Arlington County adopted in 2019 a Community Energy Plan that aimed to power all county facilities with renewable electricity by 2025. Now, it has two more goals to tackle: By 2035, the county aims to power 100% of Arlington’s electricity with renewable sources, and by 2050, the county aims to be carbon neutral.
A year into new stormwater requirements for single-family home projects, homebuilders and remodelers say even the improved process is laborious and expensive, costing homeowners extra money.
On the other hand, Arlington County says that permit review times have shortened and that the program will be evaluated for possible improvements.
Before September 2021, builders had to demonstrate that a given property had ways to reduce pollution in stormwater runoff to comply with state regulations aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
Last year, the county began requiring projects that disturb at least 2,500 square feet of land to demonstrate the redeveloped property can retain at least 3 inches of stormwater during flash flooding events through features such as tanks, planters and permeable paver driveways. Builders must also refurbish the soil with soils that increase water retention.
Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Peter Golkin says improvements like these “are vital as we continue the work toward a flood resilient Arlington,” especially as “the pace of single family home construction in Arlington remains strong.”
But the regulations are fairly new and could change, Golkin said.
“The first projects in LDA 2.0 are now coming to construction, and the County is entering the phase of evaluation to identify potential adjustments and improvements,” he said. ”The County expects to have more information about any LDA 2.0 updates by mid-2023.”
The updates were intended to address increasing infill development and rainfall intensity, and the downstream effects of runoff and impacts to the county’s aging storm drains and local streams.
Builders and remodelers say the changes have caused new headaches and resulted in projects shrinking in size.
“It only gets more complicated, costs more, and takes longer,” says architect Trip DeFalco.
Andrew Moore, president of Arlington Designer Homes, said he’s avoided this process in many projects after telling the clients about the potential costs and permitting time.
“People are motivated to think, do I need that bump-out to be 14 feet? I can live with 12 feet,” he said. “It saves you $50,000 and 3 months.”
Despite the hassle, permit applications are still coming in at a clip of, on average, 20 per month.
Responding to redevelopment
In the wake of the destructive July 2019 flash flood, residents has discussed and voted on ways to address stormwater mitigation in Arlington, while the county has put more funding toward stormwater improvement projects.
The issue of runoff has figured into debates about how to protect streams and the impacts of allowing the construction of two- to eight-unit “Missing Middle” houses in Arlington, though such projects could only occupy the footprint currently allowed for single-family homes on a given property.
In the wake of the flash flooding, the county introduced new regulations for what it says is one of the biggest runoff contributors: new single-family homes.
“Ensuring more robust control of runoff from new single family homes, which create the majority of new impervious area from regulated development activity, remains a top County priority as part of the comprehensive Flood Resilient Arlington initiative,” Golkin said.
An average of 167 single-family homes have been built and an average of 155 torn down annually over the last 11 years, according to Arlington’s development tracker tool. Demolitions peaked in 2015 and completed projects in 2016.
A past of pollution
DeFalco, who spent a few years as a builder, too, says the “county’s hands are a little bit tied” on this issue because they have to meet state requirements aimed at curbing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
Runoff brought fertilizer into the bay, causing algae and plants to grow quickly and then die, sink to the bottom, where they decayed and used up oxygen, says civil engineer Roger Bohr.
“The state is pushing on the county and the federal government is pushing on the state,” DeFalco said. “But the implementation on the homeowner level is pretty onerous… I don’t think the residents have any idea what’s going in their side yards.”
Golkin compared the transition period right now to when new state stormwater management requirements took effect in 2014.
“Staff and the building and engineering community ultimately came up to speed,” he said.
Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that highlights Arlington-based startups, founders, and local tech news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn.
A startup that bills itself as a “modern-day milkman” is deepening its reach in Arlington after securing $38 million in new funding.
The Rounds delivers home essentials, like cleaning supplies, and goods from local companies such as D.C.-based Compass Coffee and Seylou Bakery, in reusable or sustainable packaging. On the same day of each week, members swap their empty containers for replenished products.
After launching in Philadelphia in 2019, The Rounds expanded into D.C., Virginia and Miami over the last year. Today, it serves about 10,000 members, according to a blog post announcing the funding.
The Rounds will be expanding its reach first via pick-up at two locations in Arlington: Compass Coffee in Rosslyn (1201 Wilson Blvd) and Movement Crystal City (1235 S. Clark Street). Pick-up is also available from Alexandria’s Sportrock Climbing Centers (5308 Eisenhower Ave).
“Pickup locations are usually what we start out with in new zip codes where we’re still building up a Member base and setting up our refillment centers in that location, so we usually lean on them as we’re getting set up and then transition to at-door delivery when we can support it,” says Nikhita Prasanna, the chief of staff at The Rounds.
The Rounds is now offering a pick-up option for Arlington residents living in the 22202, 22211, 22213, 22214, 22203, 22204, 22205 and 22206 zip codes, Prasanna says. For now, it’s only delivering to residents in the 22201, 22207 and 22203 zip codes.
As for why The Rounds has chosen climbing gyms, she says that is because a lot of its target audience climbs recreationally.
“When we started doing events at climbing gyms, we noticed that people were super excited about The Rounds and regularly came to the climbing gym as part of their weekly routine,” she tells ARLnow. “So, we worked with our climbing gym partners to set up pickup spots so that when Members come to do their climbing, they can also get refilled. We’re not limited to climbing gyms as the only pick-up spots, but we’ve found that the climbing community tends to be mission-aligned and excited about our service.”
The chief of staff said her team hopes to begin at-door deliveries in these eight Arlington zip codes next year.
That effort could get a boost from an upcoming zoning change. Arlington County may soon allow micro-fulfillment centers as an alternative use for vacant office units, as a way to bring down its 20.8% office vacancy rate and meet an increasing delivery demand.
While Prasanna couldn’t speak to the work the operations team may be doing on this locally, she said that is likely “something we’re exploring to allow us to better serve Arlington residents.”
Meanwhile, The Rounds is looking for more apartment buildings with which to partner.
“We already work with a number building partners in Arlington, and we’re looking to expand partnerships,” she said. “If any reader is excited about our concept and lives in a building they think would be willing to partner, we would love any leads. We’re actively working on building partnerships right now.”
The startup is also planning to use the funding to improve the technology it uses to predict when customers need refills, or its “Psychic Home Manager.”
“We’re able to use technology to build a predictive engine that allows us to anticipate what you need before you run out,” said co-founder Alex Torrey in a statement.
Additionally, The Rounds announced that it is partnering with a tech startup started by General Motors, called BrightDrop, to test out delivery via electric vehicles.
The funding — led by private equity company Redpoint Ventures and venture capital company Andreesen Horowitz — follows a $4 million round of seed funding, per the blog post.
Metrorail riders could soon enjoy free transfers to Arlington Transit (ART) buses.
The Arlington County Board this Saturday is set to consider covering bus trips for SmarTrip card users who start their one-way trips on the Metro.
This move is part of a broader effort by the county, the region and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to recover ridership rates, which plummeted during the pandemic.
Ordinarily, transfer trips cost $1.50 rather than the full $2. Individual jurisdictions get to decide whether to offer a discount.
“The WMATA Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget includes an increase of the rail to bus transfer discount from $0.50 to $2.00,” notes a staff report to the County Board. “If adopted by Arlington County, the increase in the discount would result in rail-to-bus transfer fare on ART of $0.00 and would align with the WMATA transfer discount.”
Arlington County Transit Bureau Chief Lynn Rivers tells ARLnow that her department supports these free rides because they are a “win-win” for the county, where users need a blend of rail and buses to navigate its Metro corridors and suburbs.
“The more that people are on rail, the better it is for us,” she said. “We really endorse people to use public transit other than single occupancy vehicles. This is another way of doing that — by making another portion free.”
Ridership in Arlington plummeted from 49.5 million bus and rail trips in the 2019-20 fiscal year to 16.1 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year, which ended in June, per the report. This year, Arlington launched two pilot programs to increase ridership while offering reduced rates to low-income riders and students.
The free rides would cost the county $242,000, but Rivers said the tradeoff is that the program could generate more paying Metro customers.
The free transfers, if approved, would go into effect on Oct. 1.
The transfer discount is not the only opportunity for free rides on ART buses this fall. Arlington’s transit service has started testing out zero-emission buses (ZEBs) from several manufacturers as part of a pilot program, and is offering free fares to those who happen to board.
The battery-powered buses will tackle some of ART’s most challenging, hilly routes. The pilot program started Monday and is expected to continue into early 2023.
“The pilot will allow ART to collect data and assess vehicle performance during actual operation in the County,” according to a press release from the county. “Operators will drive ZEBs to test battery performance, range and response to Arlington’s geographic features including steep hills.”
In-service test buses will have signs indicating the route and the free fare. Passengers are able to provide online feedback on their ridership experience on these battery-powered buses.
The schedule for this month’s test rides is as follows:
On Friday, the GILLIG battery electric bus will be parked on the 2100 block of 15th Street N. from 1-3 p.m. so people can see it, ask questions and learn more about the pilot program.
Arlington will repeat these pilot rides with two to three additional manufacturers this fall and winter.
Transitioning to zero-emission buses would help the county meet its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, the press release says. Arlington is also working to use renewable electricity for all of its government operations by 2025.
We now know the likely culprit that killed nearly 100 fish in Four Mile Run last week: pool water.
“Investigators say flawed seasonal pool care involving chlorine and overflow led to last week’s fish kill in Four Mile Run,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Peter Golkin tells ARLnow. “Recent rains have now cleared the stream. Reminder: No filters on our storm drains. Please be careful.”
Golkin said overflow from the pool at a “multi-family property swimming pool” — in other words, an apartment or condo complex — “got into the storm drain” and made its way to the stream, between S. Walter Reed Drive and S. Taylor Street.
Pool water, it turns out, is deadly.
“Swimming pool and spa water can have devastating effects on the health of our streams if not disposed of properly,” the county’s website says. “The chlorine, bromine, algaecides, cleaning chemicals and low oxygen levels can kill fish and other aquatic life in streams.”
“Only freshwater that is dechlorinated, pH neutral, chemical-free and clean may be slowly discharged into the storm drain system,” says the website. Otherwise, pool water must go into the sewer system.
Golkin noted that the county’s rules around swimming pool drainage are “especially timely as this is prime season for closing out pools for the year.”
It is illegal to drain untreated pool water directly or indirectly into storm drains, though it’s not clear whether anyone will face any fines or other consequences in this case.
“It was not a malicious act,” Golkin said. “It was a multi-family property swimming pool. The owners and their service people have been very cooperative with the investigation and in making follow-up improvements so such an incident isn’t repeated.”
Another pool-related drainage issue that comes up around this time each year: pool drainage that flows into neighboring properties, flooding yards, killing grass and sparking neighborhood disputes. The county considers such disputes to be out of its regulatory control.
More from the county website:
Chapter 26-7 makes it unlawful for any person to discharge directly or indirectly into the storm sewer system or state waters, any substance likely, in the opinion of the County Manager, to have an adverse effect on the storm sewer system or state waters. Failure to comply with code requirements may result in enforcement action, including the issuance of civil penalties as outlined in Chapter 26-10 of the Arlington County Code. Enforcement action may also be taken by state and federal authorities in the event of a fish kill. Please share this information with pool service companies. You may be held responsible for the results of their actions.
If pool or spa water is to be released over-land, the release should be:
- At least 10 feet from the property line
- Monitored and controlled to prevent flooding or erosion of neighboring properties
Conflicts between neighbors that arise due to the release of pool or spa water are considered civil in nature. The Property Drainage webpage contains further information about residential drainage concerns and the potential conflicts that can arise.
For more information on swimming pools and how to properly manage pool water discharge, call 703-228-4488.
Update: Investigators say flawed seasonal pool care involving chlorine and overflow led to last week's fish kill in Four Mile Run. Recent rains have now cleared the stream. Reminder: No filters on our storm drains. Please be careful. @ArlingtonVaFD https://t.co/1HhF74Y8HX
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) September 12, 2022
Rent Keeps Going Up — “Arlington’s median apartment-rental rate remains highest in the metropolitan area and has fully rebounded from dropoffs during the early part of COVID, according to new data. With a median rental rate of $1,999 for a one-bedroom unit and $2,391 for two bedrooms in May, Arlington’s average rental… is now up just under 13 percent year-over-year.” [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Making Much Multifamily — From a spokesperson, about a new set of national rankings: “Multi-family units authorized in Arlington increased by 1,095.8% — a total addition of 2,838 units — between 2020 and 2021. Out of all midsize cities, Arlington experienced the 5th largest increase in multi-family home construction.” [Construction Coverage]
Group Decries Missing Middle ‘D-Day’ — From WAMU’s Ally Schweitzer: “With Arlington expected to enact zoning reforms allowing denser housing in more nabes, the group [Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future] is ramping up its rhetoric in opposition. The group’s latest blast calls the expected vote day ‘D-Day.’ They’ve said the county is ‘declaring war’ on single-family nabes.” [Twitter]
Parking Removed for Transitway Extension — From the National Landing BID: “Parking lanes along Crystal Drive and 12th Street South will be closed to make way for the Transitway Extension Project beginning Wednesday, June 15, 2022.” [Twitter]
Pedestrian Struck in Bluemont — From Dave Statter last night: “Report of a pedestrian struck at Wilson Blvd & George Mason Dr. Appears to be a bicyclist. There was also bicyclist struck last week a block away. @ArlingtonVaFD & @ArlingtonVaPD handling.” [Twitter]
Amazon Buys HQ2 Phase 2 Site — “Amazon.com Inc. has acquired the roughly 11 vacant acres in Pentagon City that will soon be developed as PenPlace, the massive second phase of HQ2. The $198 million deal with JBG Smith, as expected, follows Arlington County’s late April approval of PenPlace, a nearly 3.3 million-square-foot project slated to include three traditional office buildings, a spiral Helix tower, three retail pavilions, a central park and an underground parking garage.” [Washington Business Journal]
Environmental Finding on HQ2 Site — “Crude oil particles have been found in the soil at Amazon.com Inc.’s PenPlace, the site of the second phase of its second headquarters buildout in Arlington County, per a public notice published Monday in The Washington Post… The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality conducted a risk assessment for the particles, finding that the amount poses ‘no material risk to current or future site occupants,’ according to the notice.” [Washington Business Journal]
It’s Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day with some rain possible. High of 76 and low of 63. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:33 pm. [Weather.gov]
A new program seeks to increase equity in Arlington by planting more trees in certain neighborhoods.
The local non-profit EcoAction Arlington announced that it’s starting the “Tree Canopy Equity Program” with the goal of raising $1.5 million to fund planting at least 2,500 trees over the next five years in local neighborhoods that have too few.
Insufficient tree canopy is closely tied to heat and temperature increases. The reason certain areas of Arlington are hotter than others, like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, is due in part to lack of trees, recent data shows.
“The neighborhoods most impacted by insufficient tree cover are communities with higher-than-average minority populations and communities with people living in poverty,” EcoAction Arlington said a press release. “The lack of trees has a real-world impact that can lead to poor physical and mental health outcomes, higher utility costs, and a lower quality of life.”
The ten civic associations and neighborhoods that the program will work with are below.
- Arlington View
- Aurora Highlands
- Columbia Heights
- Green Valley
- John M. Langston Citizens Association (Halls Hill/High View Park)
- Long Branch Creek
- Radnor/Fort Myer Heights
The current levels of tree cover in those neighborhoods is between 17% and 33%, according to EcoAction Arlington.
“The goal is to radically increase tree planting in the neighborhoods with the lowest tree cover to align with the average for other Arlington communities of approximately 40 percent,” the press release says.
EcoAction Arlington executive director Elenor Hodges tells ARLnow that that the group has already begun to plant more trees. That includes American hornbeams, pin oaks, river birch, sugarberry, American sycamore, swamp white oak, and American linden.
The program needs about $150,000 a year to cover operations, marketing, staffing, and the actual planting of trees, Hodges says, with each tree costing about $500 to plant.
Amazon, an inaugural sponsor, has already contributed $50,000. The goal is to raise $1.5 million from other corporate and individual donors, while also obtaining funding from Arlington’s existing Tree Canopy Fund Program. This initiative allows neighborhood groups, owners of private property and developments, and places of worship to apply to have native plants or trees planted on their property.
Residents in neighborhoods lacking sufficient tree canopy note that the the problem is often tied to the construction of large, new homes and not prioritizing trees while building.
“As we lose trees due to infill development of large homes on lots in our neighborhood, they need to be replaced and even expanded,” John M. Langston Citizens Association president Wilma Jones tells ARLnow. “We all know that trees give off oxygen and they reduce stormwater runoff.
Natasha Atkins has been a resident of Aurora Highlands for nearly four decades and has “watched with alarm” the number of trees lost to homebuilding projects.
“With the County’s zoning code, requiring only very small setbacks for residential housing, it is questionable whether there will be much of a tree canopy in the future in the single-family neighborhoods that are being redeveloped,” she says. “Trees are an afterthought in planning and zoning. They should really be a driver.”
Hodges concedes that planting 2,500 more trees over the next five years will only “make a dent” and it will take tens of thousands of trees for all these neighborhoods to reach the 40% tree canopy threshold.
But the Tree Canopy Equity Program is just as much about what one can do today as what one can do tomorrow, says Hodges.
“It’s about behavioral change and teaching people about the importance of having a sufficient tree canopy in Arlington,” she said.
The most scorching parts of Arlington are along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and Reagan National Airport, according to a new study.
On a hot day last July, volunteers and Marymount University research students and staff recorded temperatures at morning, afternoon and evening throughout the county as part of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges’ Heat Watch Campaign. Residents across the Commonwealth also contributed to the statewide data collection effort.
That data has since been compiled into heat maps, released this week, that cover more than 300 square miles of Virginia. Environmentalists say this information is helpful for targeting solutions to heat: planting more trees where possible and, where that is not possible, adding amenities like community gardens and planted walls.
Although Arlington County is compact, temperatures varied by up to 7 degrees depending on location. The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, for example, recorded a temperature of 94.8 degrees at 3 p.m., and less than two miles away, neighborhoods near the Potomac Overlook Regional Park clocked in at 87.8 degrees.
Marymount University assistant biology professor Susan Agolini says highly populated areas like Ballston and Clarendon are often hotter because concrete and asphalt absorb heat and radiate it back into the environment, while the North Arlington neighborhoods closest to the Potomac River have trees and gardens to soak up that sunshine.
“I do not think there were any surprises here with regard to what areas were hotter,” Agolini said. “We know that locations with a lot of pavement and cement are going to be hotter than areas with a lot of trees and green space. The question is what do we do about that?”
Agolini says she will bring this data to conversations with county officials about urban planning and cooling solutions, such as planting trees and incentivizing the creation of community gardens around buildings and on their rooftops.
For example, 23% of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association had tree canopy compared to 74% of the Bellevue Forest Civic Association, according to the most recent county tree canopy data, from 2016.
“I find it really compelling that the benefits of and need for increased space for urban agriculture could actually serve multiple purposes,” Agolini said. “It would not only provide Arlington residents with the physical and mental health benefits of growing their own food, but it could also have the added benefit of decreasing the impact of heat disparities throughout the county.”
Elenor Hodges — the executive director of the community organization promoting environmental stewardship, EcoAction Arlington — helped collect temperature data last summer. She says the data provide “another way of looking at a known issue.”
And the solution — more trees and plantings — has benefits that bleed into other environmental and public health goals, she said.
“If you’re building in an area and you can think about having it be as green and plant-based green as possible then that makes the space cooler,” she said. “You can be happier in this space, healthier, and it helps with carbon and it reduces stormwater runoff.”
Hodges said EcoAction Arlington would like to see this data inform developments currently going through the county review processes so that the projects can reduce, rather than contribute to, Arlington’s heat zones.
This includes planting walls of plants, blending indoor and outdoor spaces, and adding trees and plantings to grass-covered parks, as grass doesn’t absorb as much heat.
The organization, which oversees a county program that plants trees on private property through developer contributions, will be launching a campaign to encourage planting in neighborhoods with less tree canopy that also have higher rates of poverty and substantial non-white populations.
For example, tree canopy levels are under 30% in the Arlington View, Buckingham and Green Valley neighborhoods, she said.
“Those are neighborhoods we are going to be looking at more carefully,” Hodges said.