Arlington, VA

At least one County Board member could be pushing to change setback regulations in a bid to provide more of a buffer between homes.

Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey recently visited an infill residential development on N. River Street, near McLean, with several neighbors she said were upset that a developer clear-cut trees on the lot and is planning to build several homes that could be located close to the neighbors.

Garvey tweeted about the issue last weekend, posting photos of the project in Arlington’s tony Chain Bridge Forest neighborhood, which in September prompted a petition from neighbors concerned about mass tree removal, a loss of privacy and decreased home values.

“This destruction has caused substantial harm to surrounding neighbors who previously had a natural green oasis abutting their backyards,” the petition says.

“I actually went to our top lawyer and said ‘This is really terrible is there something we can do?'” Garvey told ARLnow. “And he said ‘Well, maybe setbacks.'”

Garvey said state laws prevent Board members from intervening on most matters related to tree removal on private property, but the Board could weigh in on the distance required between houses — as members did earlier this year when considering accessory dwelling units.

The idea is that requiring a larger distance between buildings could help preserve existing mature trees instead of incentivizing property owners to cut them down.

Garvey said she believes this type of development — clear cutting trees and building multiple homes or very large homes — is becoming more common as housing prices spike.

“You got a lot of turnover of the baby boomers starting to move on, downsize, leave their home,” she said. “Some of those homes tend to be those smaller homes with a whole lot of yard and not a whole lot of house — and that makes for an opportunity there.” 

However, trees can also help absorb storm runoff — a topic of discussion that gained new urgency after this summer’s flash flood, which sparked conversations about the need for urgent stormwater management solutions.

When asked whether those discussions led her to request the regulatory review, Garvey said she has always been an advocate for preserving Arlington’s tree canopy.

“Looking at a big tree-covered lot turn into a big mud pie is just upsetting to everyone,” she said. “But the community as whole is more aware of [the importance of trees.]”

Garvey said she expects the review of setback regulations to take “a few months” and result in a set of recommendations to the Board.

The Board has been long-criticized by environmental activists before for its failure to preserve trees on private properties, as well as public parks.

Board members have frequently cited state laws that prevent them from interceding on private property, with former member John Vihstadt (I) once describing Virginia as a “‘mother-may-I’ state.”

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Morning Notes

New Restaurant Opening Soon in Ballston — “Zoup! Eatery, the fast casual restaurant known for its award-winning soups and made-to-order sandwiches and salads, is set to open its first Arlington location on Monday, Oct. 21.” [Press Release]

School Library Lending Down Slightly — “Who says print is dead? Circulation of print materials at Arlington’s public-school libraries held relatively steady during the 2018-19 school year at about 980,000 items – or about 36 items per student. The total figure… was down about 1.5 percent from a year before.” [InsideNova]

Notable Tree Nominations Open — “Since 1987, Arlington has identified and registered its most notable trees, as well as the residents who care for them.” Nominations for 2020 notable trees nominees are now open, with a Dec.  1 deadline. [Arlington County]

Job Fair for Local Census Workers — “Interested in a job with the U.S. Census for 2020? @ArlEmploymentCt is hosting recruitment events this month. The first two sessions are Tuesday, Oct. 8.” [Eventbrite, Twitter]

‘Cautionary Tale’ for Gondola Plans — “Several years after closing the gondola that served the Alemão favela, the state of Rio de Janeiro has kept up hope that it would restart service. In May, the state said it would reopen the line by the end of the year. But with three months left in 2019, there’s little sign of action.” [Wired, Twitter]

Nearby: Bearer of Bad News for Hire — “Want a divorce? Have to quit your job? Need to tell your family you crashed your car into the side of the Van Dorn Station Shopping Center? Sometimes there’s no easy way to break bad news, so don’t. An Alexandrian is offering his services via Craigslist to break the bad news for you.” [ALXnow]

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Over forty trees are planned to be removed to make way for a new elementary school in Westover, but Arlington Public Schools is hosting one last meeting about potential tree-saving solutions before construction starts.

A discussion is scheduled with neighbors on Monday (Sept. 16) at the edge of the grove will involve discussion of whether any of the trees can be saved. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the basketball court on the Reed site (1644 N. McKinley Road).

The current plans call for the removal of roughly 42 trees to facilitate construction that will add to the building that houses the Westover Library and, soon, a new neighborhood elementary school.

Residents have expressed concerns about the removal of the grove, which includes a variety of maple, cedar and mulberry trees. A presentation on the project noted that an inventory of the trees was prepared by a certified arborist and tree removal was recommended.

According to the presentation:

Decisions on tree removal balanced: Building location and required excavation, site improvements (play areas, universally accessible walkways, etc.) and underground utilities (sanitary, storm, geothermal, etc.).

The designs for the site include adding 82 replacement trees, well above the 49 trees required to be planted according to county regulations.

But the plans have drawn some criticism from neighbors and local environmentalists. County Board candidate Audrey Clement specifically addressed the County Board’s approval of the project for its destruction of the trees at a debate this past Monday  (Sept. 9). Many of the trees are larger, like a silver maple tree 4.5 feet wide.

At the meeting next Monday, the presentation says neighbors will be invited to discuss the removal with an arborist and county staff.

But any moving of the remaining trees will have to occur quickly: construction of the new school is scheduled to start by the end of September.

The Westover neighborhood suffered extensive damage from flooding this summer, but school officials said the new school will include updated stormwater protections.

“Stormwater structures and basins are much enhanced from what exists on-site now as per current state stormwater requirements,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

Map via Arlington Public Schools

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Arlington residents can now register to receive a free tree for their homes, thanks to Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation’s annual giveaway of 400 native trees.

The available trees are termed “whips” and come in two-gallon containers ranging from 2-4 feet in size, according to the organizer’s website. Registration for the annual program opened Tuesday.

“This annual program is very popular and has yielded many beautiful trees and benefited our community,” organizers wrote.

There will be two tree distribution days this year, led by county landscaping staff and members of the Arlington/Alexandria Tree Stewards organization.

The first tree pickup will take place on Saturday, Oct. 26 from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Barcroft Baseball Field parking lot (4208 S. Four Mile Run Drive).

The second pickup will be on Tuesday, Oct. 29 from 4-6 p.m. at the Reed-Westover Baseball Field parking lot (5829 18th Street N.)

One tree is allowed per residential property. Those who live in a multi-family property, like an apartment complex, are asked to email the Tree Stewards for more information on obtaining trees.

Photo via TreeStewards/Facebook

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Morning Notes

Woman Arrested for Burning Flag Near W-L High — “A woman was arrested for burning an American flag on an overpass over I-66 in Arlington, police say. Kayla Caniff, 22, was charged with property destruction after police say she burned a flag attached to a chain link fence on the N. Stafford Street overpass, north of the Ballston area, at about 11:55 p.m. Thursday.” [NBC Washington]

County Website Goes Down — The Arlington County website was down for an extended period of time over Labor Day weekend. [Twitter]

Lucky Dog Takes in Pups from Hurricane’s Path — “While Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas — thousands of miles away in Arlington, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue plotted a rescue mission… The Carolinas are projected to be in the storm’s path and Lucky Dog Animal Rescue is partnered with a shelter in South Carolina. So the organization’s volunteers met an animal control officer part of the way there to take 19 of the shelter’s dogs.” [WJLA]

APS to Review Westover Tree Plan — “Facing community unrest in Westover, Arlington Public Schools plans to take another look at the potential of saving more trees during construction of a new elementary school on North McKinley Road near Washington Boulevard. Following an Aug. 29 meeting with residents, the school system has directed that ‘before the trees are removed, we have the contractor stake out the site and renumber the trees.'” [InsideNova]

Energy Plan Concerns: Feds and Trees — Arlington County’s impending update to its Community Energy Plan, which sets a net zero carbon emissions goal, is an important step in fighting climate change, some advocates say, though additional action is still needed on the state and federal level. Others, despite supporting the goal, are concerned that achieving it may come at the cost of the area’s tree canopy. [Washington Post, Arlington County]

Arlington’s Many Advocacy Orgs — “My viewing [of the Netflix documentary ‘The Family’] got me thinking of the many newsmaking organizations — of all political stripes — that have long populated our suburb so close to the action of the nation’s capital. Wilson Blvd. and Crystal City alone are home to enough colorful groups to generate a slew of political and public policy contretemps.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Reminder: Be Careful on the Roads Today — It’s the first day of school, kids will be walking to school and there are new traffic patterns around some schools. Arlington County Police are conducting “a high-visibility traffic enforcement campaign in and around school zones and bus stops” today. [ARLnow, Arlington County]

Photo courtesy David Johnson

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Morning Notes

Latest Flood Stats — “As of Tuesday morning, the Department of Environmental Services had received 151 calls about damage to private property, storm drain backups, indoor flooding and roadway flooding; The County also investigated more than 30 drainage complaints.” [Arlington County]

Record-Setting Rain Rate — “The 3.30 [inches of rain] recorded between 8:52-9:52 a.m [at Reagan National Airport] was Washington, D.C.’s highest hourly precip report in records dating back to 1936.” [Twitter]

Flooded Scooters Removed from Service — “Bird, Jump, and Lime, three of the city’s five operators, told The Verge that their employees were actively engaged in removing scooters from the flooded areas.” [The Verge]

ACPD Crime Map Goes Down — “ACPD is aware of system issues with the Online Community Crime Map and is working with the third-party vendor, LexisNexis, to resolve the issue. If you are looking for information regarding crime in your neighborhood, please view the Daily Crime Report.” [Twitter]

D.C. Office Vacancy Rises as N. Va. Declines — “Office vacancy is reaching new heights in the District as new supply continues to outpace demand, but market conditions are much better for landlords in neighboring Northern Virginia.” [Bisnow]

Trailers to Take Out Tree — “In a community where the destruction of even a single tree can mobilize residents, there may be another skirmish in the offing on July 13. That’s the date that Arlington County Board members will be asked to approve the placement of new portable (‘relocatable’) classrooms on the campus Arlington Traditional School, designed to ease overcrowding.” [InsideNova]

Ballston Office Building Sold — “The first building developed in Ballston’s Liberty Center complex has just traded hands.  Carr Properties sold the One Liberty Center office building at 875 North Randolph St. to USAA Real Estate, the JLL brokerage team announced Monday. Property records show the sale closed June 26 for about $153M.” [Bisnow]

Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak

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Morning Notes

Columbia Pike Flooding — Columbia Pike flooded near S. Greenbrier Street during last night’s storms. Drivers could be seen driving through standing water as high as the tops of car tires. [Twitter]

Another Flash Flood Watch — Arlington is again under a Flash Flood Watch from 2-11 p.m. today, as slow-moving storms may produce torrential, flooding rainfalls. [Weather.gov, Twitter]

County to Tackle Premature Tree Deaths — “‘The county is not taking adequate care of its newly planted trees,’ said [Elizabeth] Grossman, a member of the Arlington Tree Action Group, who said that while there were many reasons trees may not survive after being planted, the death rate on Arlington government property seems excessive.” [InsideNova]

Fire at Ballston Building — “Firefighters are on scene of a fire at a high-rise residential building on the 800 block of N. Quincy Street in Ballston. Reportedly a small fire in one of the units.” [Twitter, Twitter]

One Reason Arlington Landed HQ2 — “A West Coast economist’s ideas challenge the ‘world is flat’ conventional wisdom about tech jobs. They’re a major part of the reason Arlington landed Amazon.” [Washingtonian, Twitter]

Retiring Superintendent Has a New Gig — Last week, Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick K. Murphy told the School Board he would be retiring in September. On Sept. 1, he will begin his new job as superintendent of Berkeley County Schools in West Virginia. [Berkeley County Schools]

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored column is written by the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy team (AIRE). This county program helps you make smart energy decisions that save you money and leaves a lighter footprint on the environment.

Arlingtonians are passionate about their trees and many are concerned about our tree canopy. We are, too!

Trees help our community in myriad ways. They keep us cool and shaded, soak up stormwater, support local wildlife and much more. We aren’t going out on a limb when we say there is a direct connection between trees and energy. Planting the right trees in the right places can keep your house and community cooler in the summer and reduce your energy bills.

Trees cast shade on buildings and pavement, lowering the temperatures and reducing the need for electricity to cool buildings during the summer.

Get a free shade tree planted in your yard without lifting a finger.

In 2009 the Tree Canopy Fund (TCF), was launched after Arlington County Board approval in 2007 with the goals of arresting the decline and restoring and increasing the County’s tree cover over time.

Administered by EcoAction Arlington and the Arlington County Urban Forestry Commission (UFC), the fund provides grants to individuals and community groups to plant trees on private property. More than 1,200 trees have been planted since the program started.

Click to learn more about the trees available and to fill out the application.

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Morning Notes

DEA Staying in Pentagon City — “The Arlington County Board today approved an incentive grant that will keep the headquarters of the Drug Enforcement Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, in Pentagon City following a lengthy federal competitive bid process. The agency occupies more than 511,000 square feet of space, and employs about 3,000 people at its Pentagon City location.” [Arlington County]

‘Take Your Child to Work Day’ for Cristol — Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol’s new baby boy made his public debut at Thursday’s meeting for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. [Twitter]

Activists Still Pressing for Tree Removal Explanation — “Remember back last year, when top Arlington officials said they would provide the public – in writing – with the reasons the government would not take further steps to protect removal of a tree that had become symbolic to environmental activists across the county? You may have forgotten, but those activists have not.” [InsideNova]

‘Notable’ Trees Recognized — “Arlington has more than 750,000 trees of at least 122 species that provide $6.89 million in environmental benefits to the County annually in the form of pollution removal, carbon storage, energy savings, and avoided stormwater runoff. The Arlington County Board will designate 24 of these trees as Notable Trees at its April 25 Recessed Meeting. [Arlington County]

Water Main Break in Fairlington — Some 100 Arlington households were without water service for part of Thursday due to emergency water main repairs in the Fairlington neighborhood. [Twitter]

Gerber Incentives Pass — Gerber’s move to Arlington is one step closer thanks to an incentive package unanimously approved by the County Board on Tuesday. The package is divided between money from the state’s Commonwealth Opportunity Fund (COF) — $862,500 — and money earmarked for nearby infrastructure upgrades — another $862,500.

Nearby: Alexandria Peeved By Metro Surprise — “A month after Metro learned additional closures would be needed at the end of this summer’s Blue and Yellow line shutdown, Alexandria’s City Council lit into the agency’s top leaders Tuesday night about why the Virginia city and the public only learned of the extended work through a news release last week.” [WTOP]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Arlington County is making the case, in a recently published video, that trees make good economic sense for residents.

For one, “homes on tree lined streets, versus streets that have no trees on them, sell faster and for more than homes” without trees, according to local real estate agent Eli Tucker, who also pens a sponsored real estate column on ARLnow.

Trees can increase a home’s value by 15 percent, Tucker said.

Another reason for keeping a tree canopy around your house: mature trees can help reduce the risk of flooding and can save on heating and air conditioning costs — to the tune of an up to 25 percent savings on energy costs.

The video was created by Arlington TV, the county government’s video production arm and cable channel.

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Crews have been cutting down trees along I-395 to make room for sound-mitigating walls expected to help buffer noise from expanding the highway’s HOV lanes.

Drivers may notice construction crews clear cutting trees and brush along I-395 where large new concrete wall panels are being set up.

The walls are being built because officials expect more traffic to result from their two-year project extending I-395’s Express Lanes through Alexandria and Arlington to the D.C. border.

The eight-mile, $475 million project converts two HOV lanes to HOT lanes, and adds a third HOT lane, between Turkeycock Run at Edsall Road to Eads Street near the Pentagon and is scheduled to finish later this year. The construction is taking place within the highway’s existing right-of-way.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) contracted Australia-based toll company Transurban to build and operate the project. VDOT directed ARLnow’s requests for comment about tree removal to Transurban.

Transurban spokesman Michael McGurk acknowledged residents may be upset about losing the trees, but the company”takes as much care as possible where it comes to tree removal” and is “committed to adding landscaping” along the walls.

McGurk also noted that the company is giving grants to communities for new tree planting or “other beautification projects” and that neighborhood can apply for a grant by March 31. He also said the wall construction is “on time and on budget” with southbound walls scheduled to be completed this summer, and northbound walls expected next spring.

The construction of the walls was preceded by a community outreach. In 2017, wall contractor AECOM polled residents who lived near I-395 in the Fairlington neighborhood if they wanted sound walls built to mitigate noise from the highway. The vote came at the same time the Fairlington Civic Association (FCA) wrote that its residents were concerned that the proposed 25-foot walls required 10 feet of clearance on both sides, likely necessitating tree removal.

The HOT lane expansion has been touted as a way to increase revenue for other local infrastructure upgrades, with Transburan pledging to pay $15 million each year to local jurisdictions for projects like renovating bridges and re-doing the Pentagon’s south parking lot.

Read Transurban’s complete comment below:

The project team takes as much care as possible where it comes to tree removal. We know how much the community cherishes the tree canopy and how important the trees are to our environment. VDOT and the 395 project team has committed to adding landscaping in identified areas along sound walls. And, Transurban, the operator of the 395 Express Lanes, has provided many of the neighborhoods along the corridor a grant to plant trees or to pay for other beautification projects. We invite any neighborhood in the 395 corridor to apply for one of our quarterly grants… The next deadline is March 31st.

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