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ArlingtonCo. Board vote kills off Crystal City trees

Co. Board vote kills off Crystal City trees

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It ain’t easy being green, particularly if you’re an urban tree. And for a handful-and-a-half of them in the vicinity of the Crystal City Water Park marked for destruction, there was no last-minute stay of execution from Arlington County Board members.

The board voted 5-0 on Oct. 19 to approve modifications to the plan for the waterpark (located at 1601 Crystal Drive and now being rebranded as National Landing Water Park) that will see seven additional trees removed from the site, while one tree that previously had been slated for removal will be retained.

The vote marked a victory for JBG Smith, which owns the site and had sought permission to remove the additional trees as part of the redevelopment of the park that had been approved by the County Board in March.

Removing these trees “is not ideal,” acknowledged Olivia Sontag of the county government’s Department of Planning, Housing and Community Development, but staff concluded it represents a fair tradeoff for a package that includes the planting of 11 additional buffer trees.

Mark O’Hara, the landscape architect overseeing the project for JBG Smith, agreed with that assessment.

“We are hopeful and confident this will be the best approach” for the long term, he said. “You’ll see much more robust growth than you see at the park now.”

The plan as initially submitted to county officials called for removing 39 additional existing trees, which skeptics might argue was an opening gambit by the developer in order to get advisory groups on board with the ultimate, much-downscaled plan.

Many of those critics grumble that it seems that, some days, the county government is a wholly-owned subsidiary of JBG Smith and other developers. Or at least does their bidding on a regular basis.

“Mature trees are a nuisance to the County Board – they get in the way of rubber-stamping gentrification,” said Jim Hurysz, a longtime vocal local activist.

The county government’s Forestry and Natural Resources Commission and Park and Recreation Commission each supported the downscaled proposal, although there were murmurs within each of those bodies that developers too often come back after winning support of their initial proposals to seek additional tree removals. The Arlington Chamber of Commerce and National Landing Business Improvement District (BID) also backed it.

“This project represents a successful model of community engagement,” said Malaika Scriven, vice president of development for the National Landing BID. It will bring “a refreshed new look” to an “iconic open space,” she said.

Lined up in opposition were a small number of civic activists, who suggested there should be a way to save trees while improving the waterpark feature.

Reading from a letter submitted by Suzanne Smith Sundburg (who could not attend the meeting), County Board candidate Audrey Clement said Arlington leaders should have more respect for trees that have managed to cheat death in inhospitable surroundings.

Those trees are, Clement read on behalf of Sundburg, “beating the odds to survive in this bleak landscape.”

“These trees have proven to be tough – give them a stay of execution,” Sundburg pleaded. But it was not to be; board members swung the figurative ax after a largely perfunctory discussion of the matter before moving on to other business.

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