Fairfax County’s parking lots and streetscapes could look a little greener.
At a land use policy committee meeting on May 16, planning staff proposed a new update to the county’s landscaping and screening ordinance — the first major change in 40 years — that would make developers add more green landscaping to more parking lots and street frontages.
For parking lots, the current ordinance requires trees to be installed at any surface parking lot with 20 spaces or more. The new ordinance could expand that requirement to any lot with 10 parking spaces and increase the amount of tree coverage from 5% to 10%.
New parking garages, meanwhile, would be required to have 10% of their top decks covered with shade, although utilizing solar canopies could lead to a reduction in that percentage.
The ordinance also introduces “street frontage landscaping” — requiring developers to provide trees on private property provided they’re along private or public streets, not internal drive aisles. Single-family dwellings would be exempted.
One small but meaningful change would also adjust the types of trees seen in these green spaces, as it turns out Fairfax County’s previous specifications weren’t evergreen.
“When it comes to transitional screening a lot of waivers are applied for to use existing vegetation because they have to have 70% evergreens and that’s not common in Fairfax County,” Sara Morgan, a planner with the Department of Planning and Zoning, said. “This allows us to review [developments] on a case by case basis as we want to further encourage the use of existing vegetation, allowing you to have a mix that is different than [the ordinance] today if you retain existing vegetation.”
Similar to the zMOD update approved in 2021 — then reversed and reinstated earlier this year — county leadership said the landscaping and screening ordinance update is a good step forward on fixing some outdated code.
“It’s been 40 years since we updated these,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “I think this is overall very, very good.”
The board approved new tree canopy standards earlier this year with the hope of encouraging private developers to plant more street trees in the public right-of-way.
The Town of Vienna is ready to turn over a new leaf in its commitment to tree plantings and preservation.
In the hopes of reversing a significant decline in canopy coverage over the past decade, staff proposed a tree conservation ordinance to the Vienna Town Council last week that would require developers to preserve existing trees when possible.
An ordinance would put the town in line with Fairfax County, which has had conservation rules since the General Assembly extended that authority to Northern Virginia localities in 1990. Right now, Vienna only requires that developers replace eliminated trees to meet canopy standards.
“This is the kind of thing that’s so big, so impactful that I would like to hear from the community on and…is absolutely worthy of a public hearing. It’s a big idea that could have big results,” Councilmember Ed Somers said after the May 8 presentation.
Current canopy requirements vary across zoning districts, but for the single-family residential lots that dominate most of Vienna, builders must provide enough trees to cover at least 20% of the lot after 20 years.
A conservation ordinance would raise that 20-year standard to 25%, require developers to “make an effort” to preserve any trees likely to survive, and let developers unable to meet their on-site canopy requirement contribute to a fund for trees plantings elsewhere in the town.
“If you can’t meet your tree requirements through tree preservation, you supplement that through tree planting, as opposed to what Vienna has right now, where a builder can cut down all the trees if they want and then just replace them with new trees later,” Brian Land, a Vienna resident and Kirkland & Ellis LLP attorney, explained.
The town hired Kirkland & Ellis and the Ramboll US Corporation, a consulting company, in September 2020 for a pro bono project to analyze its tree program and those of other jurisdictions in Virginia.
In addition to a conservation ordinance, the consultants recommend that Vienna create a tree commission to supplement its Conservation and Sustainability Commission and track and publish plantings data on an annual basis.
Town staff have already started to make progress on the tracking recommendation, thanks to a town-wide tree inventory now underway.
Building off an urban tree canopy assessment released in October, the now-complete first phase of the inventory identified 8,640 sites in town that either have a tree or are suitable for future plantings. Of the 7,224 existing trees, 306 were dead, and 689 others were in poor condition, town staff told the council.
Conducted by consultant PlanIT Geo, the project’s second phase will consist of parks that weren’t already surveyed. A final report is expected to be presented to the town council on June 12.
The inventory data, including the health and species of each tree, is being assembled into a dashboard that staff will be able to update in real time and that will be accessible to the public through the town’s website.
While the inventory will provide valuable information, more staff and money are needed to actually plant and maintain trees, Vienna Park Maintenance Superintendent Jeremy Edwards said.
According to Edwards, the town’s annual tree maintenance budget has jumped from $30,000 just two years ago to $80,000 this year, and the council approved $250,000 in federal Covid relief funds for a street tree replacement project on May 1.
However, Vienna has no staff dedicated to tree maintenance, and with hundreds of trees in need of removal or pruning, those funds start to look pretty paltry.
“If trees are important, which I think they are, we do need to build a staff of competent workers that can not just cut trees, but know how to prune them, how to maintain them so we can manage them much better going forward,” Edwards said. “A lot of people can just cut. That’s what we’ve been doing so far, but knowing the proper cuts, that’s the skilled staff we need right now.”
Updated at 11:35 a.m. on 4/27/2023 — With rain in the forecast tomorrow (Friday), the cherry tree plantings have been postponed to May 6, the Tysons Community Alliance announced today.
Earlier: This year’s cherry blossom season has come and gone, but in Tysons, the seeds for future flowers are about to take root.
The Tysons Community Alliance (TCA), the nonprofit community improvement organization formed to replace the Tysons Partnership, has partnered with the National Cherry Blossom Festival to obtain and plant 17 cherry trees around the urban center.
The trees will be planted at Tysons Corner Center and Scotts Run this Friday (April 28), which is not coincidentally also Arbor Day.
“We chose cherry trees as our first official planting in Tysons because of their beautiful blooms and rich history in the region,” Tysons Community Alliance interim CEO Rich Bradley said. “Moreover, by partnering with the National Cherry Blossom Festival to plant these trees, it allows us to be an official part of what has become a truly regional celebration and one of the largest festivals in the country.”
About 50 volunteers are needed for the plantings, according to the TCA. They can participate in one or both of the two scheduled shifts:
- Location: Scotts Run, 1651 Old Meadow Rd, Tysons, VA, 22102
- Volunteer arrival time: 7:30 a.m.
- Training session: 7:45 a.m.
- Planting begins: 8 a.m.
- Location: I-495 pedestrian bridge (Tysons Corner Center side)
- Volunteer arrival time: 11:30 a.m.
- Training session: 11:45 a.m.
- Planting begins: noon
An official ceremony to celebrate the plantings is scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Scotts Run trailhead.
The Arbor Day event extends a collaboration between the TCA and the festival that began earlier this month with the first annual “Pedal with Petals” family bicycle ride. The partnership was announced at the alliance’s official launch in February.
Held from March 20 to April 14 this year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival works with the nonprofit Casey Trees to plant trees around the D.C. area. The TCA will be responsible for maintaining the new trees in Tysons going forward, according to a spokesperson.
About 20 acres of eastern hemlock trees rooted to the Bull Run River banks in Clifton will be formally recognized tomorrow (Tuesday) as likely the oldest trees in Fairfax County.
Believed to be at least 250 years old, the trees in Hemlock Overlook Regional Park are the first stand in the county and only the second in Northern Virginia to join the Old Growth Forest Network, a national nonprofit that aims to identify and protect the oldest known forests in every county in the U.S.
The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks) will celebrate the milestone at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow by unveiling a permanent sign explaining the forest’s significance.
The ceremony will also include an early Earth Day commemoration. Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, and other local officials are expected to attend.
“We want the people hiking along the trail to not just have a great experience hiking…but also learn something about the interesting and unique environment that they’re in,” NOVA Parks Executive Director Paul Gilbert said. “…This is a very unusual thing to have an old growth forest in an area that has been heavily forested and developed for over 150 years, and it certainly fits with the mission of NOVA Parks to conserve these areas and to educate the public about these areas.”
With its induction, Hemlock Overlook follows in the footsteps of Arlington’s Glencarlyn Park, which had a 24-acre portion added to the Old Growth Forest Network in 2o15.
Founded in 2012 by ecologist and author Joan Maloof, the network has grown to over 190 forests across 32 states. All included forests have protections in place against logging and are publicly accessible, though there are separate designations for private and smaller community forests.
Gilbert says NOVA Parks was aware that Hemlock Overlook had a “very old forest area,” but the Old Growth Forest Network identified it independently and then reached out to the authority.
The nonprofit works with county coordinators in local communities to help it identify potential old growth forests that are publicly accessible, according to Brian Kane, the OGFN’s Mid-Atlantic regional manager and community outreach manager.
The organization had gotten seven or eight nominations in Fairfax County, including for some stands along George Washington Memorial Parkway, but the Hemlock Overlook trees ultimately stood out.
“It’s really kind of remarkable this is standing there in busy Fairfax County,” Kane said. “…We’re absolutely thrilled this is happening.” Read More
With the first day of spring drawing ever closer, the McLean Tree Foundation is gearing up for another season of sprucing up the area’s tree canopy.
For a $100 fee, the local nonprofit is offering to help McLean homeowners plant growing native trees in their yards as part of its Neighborhood Tree Program, which is now in its ninth year.
“Native trees increase biodiversity, enhance ecosystems, provide shelter for wildlife, improve our health and the environment, increase property values, and reduce heating and cooling costs for homeowners,” MTF Chairman Carol Wolter said in a news release. “In short, trees contribute to our well-being!”
Launched in 2014, the Neighborhood Tree Program is the only tree-planting initiative in Fairfax County that’s specifically aimed at homeowners, according to the foundation.
In addition to selecting and delivering a 6 to 12-foot-tall tree, volunteers help with the actual planting, give residents information about how to take care of the tree, and check in after a few months to see how it’s doing.
Plantings occur in the spring and fall, but applications are accepted throughout the year, MTF board member Steve Lagerfeld says. Since it began, the program has added 70 trees in McLean.
The McLean Trees Foundation originated in 1964 as a McLean Citizens Association program whose goal was to plant 300 dogwood, oak and maple trees, according to the foundation’s website.
Using proceeds from a community-wide newspaper recycling campaign to fund tree plantings, the program evolved into a permanent MCA committee in 1980 and incorporated as a standalone organization in 2004.
After the recycling campaign ended in 2014, the foundation says it’s now entirely supported by grants and donations. On top of the Neighborhood Tree Program, MTF has tree sponsorships where donors of $500 or more can get one planted at a public park.
As Fairfax County pines for a better tree canopy, county staff is hoping a credit program expansion can spruce up the area’s street trees.
While developers could already a 10-Year Tree Canopy Credit for trees built on-site, trees in the public right-of-way aren’t eligible despite positive impacts on the environment and site development. At a meeting last week, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors raised no objection to an information item expanding eligibility to include trees.
The change in urban design guidelines across Fairfax County makes street trees eligible for that 10-Year Tree Canopy Credit and implements a new set of standards, along with minimums and maximum tree sizes, for street trees.
“These changes give the Urban Forestry Management Division (UFMD) authority to have long-term oversight of street trees that are included in ten-year tree canopy calculations,” the agenda item said. “Perpetual maintenance and replacement agreements by the applicant are required to due to the potential for the removal of trees in rights-of-way and easements.”
Per a county news release, the new guidelines apply to developments in more urbanized activity centers:
- Tysons Urban Center
- Bailey’s Crossroads/Seven Corners
- Lake Anne
- West Falls Church
Those areas tend to some of Fairfax County’s most notable “heat islands” and tend to be areas with lower area median incomes than the county average, according to the county.
“The result is intended to increase the number of street trees and associated tree canopy to improve environmental, social, and economic outcomes,” the agenda item said. “Trees planted will be monitored for success and adjustments to the planting details will be made as necessary.”
The Vienna Town Council is in agreement that it must finish rewriting the town’s zoning code by the end of 2023, but that’s where any unanimity on priorities for the coming year ends.
At its first regular meeting of the year on Monday (Jan. 9), the council voted 4-3 to set four top priorities for 2023: complete Code Create Vienna, develop a parks master plan, review the town’s noise ordinance, and explore ways to improve the local tree canopy.
While everyone agreed those initiatives are important, the town’s first zoning overhaul in 50 years is the only one that all members felt should be at the top of their to-do list.
“I agree with this in concept, but when I look at this list, I do question whether this is representing what the people in town would want as their top four priorities,” Councilmember Nisha Patel said of the proposal from her colleague, Ray Brill.
She called prioritizing Code Create “a no-brainer” but wasn’t sold on tree preservation as a top issue compared to traffic or vehicle break-ins, which get more resident complaints.
A report presented in October found that Vienna has lost approximately 163 acres of tree coverage since 2011.
The council discussed potential priorities for the next year at an almost four-hour-long conference session on Dec. 12, but the need to finish the zoning overhaul after more than two years of work was the only suggestion to get unanimous support, according to Mayor Linda Colbert.
The parks master plan will include a decision on long-term uses for the former Faith Baptist Church property that the town bought in September 2020. The site is temporarily housing the police department, which hasn’t moved into its new station months after the ribbon-cutting.
The town’s noise ordinance was opened up for review in July after years of resident complaints about violations from business and construction activities.
Colbert and Councilmember Ed Somers joined Patel in her wariness of designating top priorities without seeking public input on what exactly they should be.
“I know probably a lot of us support each other’s [suggestions] certainly, even if we didn’t rank them in the top four,” Colbert said. “I don’t think it would be responsible for us to vote on four priorities when we didn’t have that discussion in an open meeting.”
Attempts to postpone a vote until after a public hearing or to only approve Code Create as the council’s top priority failed, as other members countered that setting clear priorities would make the town government more efficient.
Councilmember Steve Potter said that a lack of focus has been a recurring issue for the council since he was first elected in 2019.
“We have public hearings, we have the ability of people to send in their concerns, and that can’t be ignored,” he said. “If we continue down this path, we are going to have the same problem that we’ve had before. We start something and it gets interrupted, we lose it, we go back to it later, and that is no way to run a business or an organization of any kind.”
Brill’s approved motion stressed that the designated quartet of priorities won’t preclude the council from addressing other issues or interfere with time-sensitive business, such as the annual budget cycle.
“We become more efficient rather than sort of kicking the can down the road on some issues that we’ve been dealing with for years,” Brill said. “When we focus, we can get them done, and we open up opportunities to get more done. This is a benefit to the town, to the residents, and we can do things in some ways like we’ve never done before.”
A new tree disease has been detected in Fairfax County, threatening one of the region’s most common trees.
County officials have confirmed, in the fall, they found that a number of American beech trees in three parks in Fairfax County were infected with beech leaf disease (BLD). The parks include Burke Lake Park, Hemlock Overlook Park near Clifton, and Fairfax Station’s Fountainhead Park.
The disease causes the leaves of beech tree saplings to develop dark green stripes in the veins as well as potentially puckered, cupped, or distorted leaves. In more mature trees, it can result in reduced foliage.
It can be fatal to the trees, causing them to possibly die within six to 10 years.
BLD is somewhat mysterious, in that officials and researchers at the county’s Urban Forest Management Division (UFMD) are still trying to figure out exactly how it spreads. There is also no cure.
“Good tree care, including proper mulching and watering during droughts, may be helpful,” the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) said in a press release. “There is ongoing research underway to learn more about BLD and how to effectively treat it.”
The disease doesn’t affect humans, animals, other tree species, or yard plants. It hasn’t been detected anywhere else in the county at the moment besides the three noted parks, DPWES spokesperson Sharon North confirmed to FFXnow.
The county is asking any residents who spot a tree they believe might be infected to report it to firstname.lastname@example.org with photos of the tree or by calling 703-324-1770 TTY 711.
“Reporting potential infestations will allow UFMD to quickly begin monitoring BLD and providing treatment once it is developed.”
BLD was first detected in Ohio about a decade ago, and Virginia’s first case was found in Prince William County in August 2021. What has officials so concerned is how poorly the disease is understood and the impact it could have on already-dwindling regional forests.
It remains unclear how BLD spreads. Experts are looking into several possibilities, including possible transmission through bacteria, fungi, mites, or even microscopic parasitic worms.
Additionally, the American beech tree makes up about 10% of the county’s forests. Any mass loss of the trees could permanently change the region’s landscape.
“Given the American beech tree comprises a large portion of our eastern trees, the disease can potentially alter the composition of the eastern forest,” DPWES said. “It is one of the most common local giant trees.”
Over the last ten years, Vienna has been steadily losing its tree canopy.
In an assessment report submitted to the Vienna Town Council earlier this month, staff found that the city’s tree canopy cover has been reduced by approximately 163 acres — or 13% — since 2011.
The decline in the town’s tree canopy is in contrast with earlier increases in prior decades.
Vienna currently has around 38.7% canopy coverage, which is lower than Fairfax County as a whole (51.2%) and nearby Falls Church (46%), but slightly ahead of some nearby areas like Arlington (38%) and Alexandria (32.5%).
The highest losses were concentrated around the center of town, near the now-ironically named Maple Avenue.
The report also includes suggestions on how Vienna can reverse the decline, including using more of the town’s right of way to plant trees along roads.
“Although overall canopy percentages of Vienna have decreased in the past 10 years, there exists many opportunities to plant, preserve, and maintain the trees within the town,” the report said. “The next steps will determine the course for The Town of Vienna’s tree management program.”
The report includes several considerations for boosting the town’s tree canopy:
- Establishing a percentage for the Town’s tree canopy goal.
- Providing support for tree planting and preservation programs and activities.
- Engaging and educating the residents and stakeholders in Vienna to support and participate in tree-related
- Developing a program to encourage planting of trees on private property.
- Writing an Urban Forest Master Plan (UFMP) for Vienna.
- Conducting an inventory of the Town’s public trees (street ROW, parks, and other public property).
- Continuing to compile and maintain data on the annual expenditures on tree planting and number of trees planted to maintain Vienna’s “Tree City USA” status.
Town Council member Nisha Patel said she hopes the report will be a wakeup call for the town.
“The message has been loud and clear for all of us: that we need to plant more trees,” Patel said. “Thank you for giving us the hard evidence of that.”
Construction on a new walkway along Sunrise Valley Drive in Reston is set to begin in the winter of 2024.
At a meeting before Reston Association’s Design Review Board on Tuesday (Oct. 18), Fairfax County transportation planners said the project would provide much-needed pedestrian enhancements from Reston Parkway to Soapstone Drive.
The project will also provide a critical connection from the future Reston Town Center Metro station to adjacent neighborhoods, according to Sonia Shahnaj, a project manager for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.
Construction of a 10-foot-wide walkway is planned, filling in missing segments along the north side of Sunrise Valley Drive.
In response to questions from DRB members on landscaping and tree preservation, Shahnaj noted that the presence of many utilities makes landscaping very challenging. FCDOT plans to remove eight trees throughout the entire project — including one that is nearly dead, she said.
“We are trying to save the existing trees, but there’s not enough buffer,” she said.
The project will add illumination on Sunrise Valley and Colts Neck Road, along with an 8-foot-wide refuge island at Indian Ridge Road, ADA curb ramps and bus stop improvements. A new bus shelter and loading pad are also planned.
Indian Ridge would get a 10-foot-wide asphalt walkway, in addition to the removal of a westbound turn lane to a driveway entrance.
A shoebox-style fixture is planned at Colts Neck Road. Crosswalks are planned at the intersection of Reston Parkway and Colts Neck, at commercial driveway entrances, and at the Sheraton Reston Hotel entrance.
DRB member Brian Cutler encouraged the county to look into installing a flashing light system for pedestrians at Indian Ridge.
“Cars are coming down that hill really fast,” Cutler said, referring to the west side of Sunrise Valley.
Shahnaj said the county explored the possibility of flashing beacon lights, but pedestrian traffic in that area does not warrant the addition, based on state guidelines.
“I’m not sure it’s warranted at this location,” she said, adding that the county is open to examining other pedestrian safety measures in that area.
Design plans will be finalized this November. Initial land acquisition is slated for the winter, with utility relocation and the beginning construction expected to begin the winter of next year.
Construction will likely be finished in the fall of 2025.