McLean Citizens Association (MCA) board members on Nov. 3 commended the Fairfax County Tree Commission for crafting proposals to preserve the county’s tree canopy, but did not agree with all of the group’s recommendations.
Tree Commission chairman Catherine Ledec on Sept. 2 sent the Board of Supervisors a letter featuring these suggestions to improve tree preservation and planting when land is developed:
• Approve a conceptual site plan with an inventory of natural resources and trees before developers submit site plans. This would allow the building envelope to be located in way that maximizes tree preservation.
• Increase property-boundary setbacks for infill development and rezonings in order to give adequate preservation space for mature trees and the planting of large shade trees.
• In areas where building height is limited, allow developers to build taller structures with smaller footprints, allowing for tree preservation or shade-tree plantings.
• Raise the county’s “fee in lieu” to reflect the appraised value of trees and make it more expensive to remove tree than to preserve them. The county’s fee now is $900, while Arlington County’s is about $2,400, the Tree Commission’s letter read.
• Assess the effectiveness of the current tree ordinance and its 10-year canopy requirement by using data concerning tree-canopy cover and land-use projects and cases at least 10 years old.
• Identify and map high-priority tree-planting areas using an “equity lens and vulnerability index.” These would include under-planted areas and spaces that could be converted from paved to planted.
MCA’s resolution expressed concerns about the proposals regarding property setbacks and taller buildings, on the grounds that they would require zoning-ordinance revisions, could cause building shadows to fall on adjacent properties andhave adverse effects if applied in residential areas.
Such recommendations only should be allowed if consistent with the comprehensive plan for the properties in question, the resolution read.
Despite those reservations, MCA’s resolution asked the Board of Supervisors to have county staff evaluate the feasibility of all six Tree Commission recommendations and study possible other incentives for developers to retain existing mature trees and determine their viability.
MCA also desired that county staff begin their review with dispatch, given the rapid pace of development and tree loss in the county, and regularly update the public on the status of the various proposals.
The Tree Commission’s broad recommendations could be implemented under existing legislation, said Barbara Ryan, chairman of MCA’s Environment, Parks and Recreation Committee.
While MCA’s resolution does not necessarily support all of those suggestions, the association would like county officials to consider them and start a dialogue, she said.
The 15-member Tree Commission consists of 10 representatives appointed by the Board of Supervisors (one for each of the nine magisterial districts and one at-large member), plus one representative each from the Fairfax County Environmental Quality Advisory Council, Soil and Water Conservation District, Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Fairfax County Park Authority and Fairfax County Urban Forest Management Division.