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ArlingtonMissing Middle critics project major loss of treescape

Missing Middle critics project major loss of treescape

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An advocacy group is projecting a potential loss of 34,000 trees – that’s about 4.5 percent of Arlington’s total – if the proposed Missing Middle zoning changes go forward.

The Arlington Tree Action Group (ATAG) estimates that 59 percent, or 3,713 acres, of Arlington’s existing tree canopy will be imperiled if the policies are enacted.

With developers required to provide fewer trees on multi-family lots than on single-family ones, what now are verdant landscapes could be denuded in a “treescape pillaging,” the organization said in a statement leading up to a July 12 County Board work session on the zoning proposal.

State law requires localities to treat different types of zoning differently when it comes to tree coverage. The standard of 20-percent coverage required when a single-family lot (zoning areas R-5 to R-20) is redeveloped would drop to 10 percent or 15 percent if the county government gives the go-ahead for current single-family lots to be redeveloped into anywhere from two to eight lots.

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The cumulative loss in trees potentially could be almost nine times the total acreage of Jennie Dean, Bon Air, Fort C.F. Smith and Tuckahoe parks, combined, the organization said. (Put another way, enough trees might be removed from the landscape to flatten an area the size of nine Pentagon parking lots.)

ATAG, which in recent months has come out as among the most vocal critics of the Missing Middle proposal, projected that changes wrought by Missing Middle policies will increase storm runoff by 480,000 cubic feet per year and increase carbon emissions by 99 tons annually.

The projections are based on independent analysis of available data by Arlington Transparency.

(While the Arlington Tree Action Group is critical of proposed Missing Middle policy changes, another environmental organization – the local Sierra Club – has come out in support of them.)

ATAG leaders for a number of years have engaged in public battle with County Board members over the impact of local policies on tree coverage in the county.

An analysis done for the county government in 2016 showed the overall Arlington tree canopy as covering 41 percent of the community, up from 40 percent in a 2011 study but down from 43 percent in 2008. County officials in general have said that represents a statistically insignificant change, and so far have rebuffed calls from a number of groups, including the Arlington County Civic Federation, to fund a new study that would provide a better look at the current situation.

In late 2021, ATAG and EcoAction Arlington called on County Board members to declare a “climate-change emergency,” but elected leaders (politely) rebuffed the request, suggesting it would do more harm than good.

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