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Trees by the Glyndon Park pickleball courts (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

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.”

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Beech leaf disease (BLD) has been detected in Fairfax County (courtesy DPWES)

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 pestmail@fairfaxcounty.gov 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.”

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Vienna is slowly losing its tree covering, according to a new report (staff photo by Vernon Miles).

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
    activities.
  • 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.”

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Missing segments along Sunrise Valley Drive will be completed as part of the walkway project (via FCDOT)

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.

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Trees line Avenir Place in Dunn Loring (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County planners want to cultivate more tree-lined streets, but to make that a reality, some more leeway for developers may be needed.

With a proposed pilot program, the county’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) will let developers in more urbanized areas count street trees as part of their 10-year tree canopy requirements — an option already offered in Tysons.

Credits would be awarded in tiered rates designed to encourage high-quality trees, while recognizing that some sites can’t meet the county’s existing standards, staff told the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s environmental committee last Thursday (Oct. 6).

If approved, the pilot will involve Tysons; transit station areas in Reston, Herndon, West Falls Church, Springfield and Huntington; and the county’s community revitalization districts in McLean, Lake Anne, Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads, Lincolnia, Merrifield, Springfield and Richmond Highway.

“Street trees have a lot of requirements for soil volume, for underdrains, for watering, and so, fundamentally, they’re very expensive to install,” JoAnne Fiebe, who manages the county’s revitalization program, said. “We count them as some of the most important trees that we can plant, particularly in areas that are urbanizing, yet we currently don’t give them credit in most areas.”

According to Fiebe, Fairfax County’s “treeless areas” like Annandale and the southern Route 1 corridor tend to more urban, hotter and home to its lowest income residents, raising equity issues.

Trees can also provide a critical buffer between streets and sidewalks. To illustrate the safety issues that come without that buffer, Fiebe showed an image of Maple Avenue in Annandale, where a driver hit four pedestrians, including a DPD employee, and killed one of them in May.

Maple Place in Annandale, where a pedestrian was killed in May, has no buffer between the street and sidewalk (via Google Maps)

“I’m not saying that street trees would’ve prevented that incident, but they create this visual friction as you’re driving that just encourages you to look around you and slow down,” she said. “I can’t help but think that if we had designed this road differently, we would’ve had a different outcome.”

The county’s public facilities manual generally requires tree planting areas to be at least 8 feet wide and over 4 feet away from any “restrictive barrier.” At least 700 cubic feet of soil must be provided, with about 500 cubic feet added for each additional tree in the pit.

Under the proposed tiered system, developers would get 1.5 credits toward their tree canopy coverage if they meet all of the requirements and a full credit if they at least meet the soil standards.

The pilot would give developers partial credit for street trees if the planting area is at least 5 feet wide, 17.5 feet long and 3.5 feet deep with 300 cubic feet of soil provided per tree. They would also have to maintain and replace the trees “in perpetuity.” Read More

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Trees at the corner of Jefferson Manor Park off Telegraph Road (photo by Brandi Bottalico)

Fairfax County is looking to grow a tree planting program that has resulted in 139 trees being planted along the Richmond Highway corridor since last year.

The “Residential Tree Planting Pilot Project” is a county-run program, in partnership with the D.C.-based nonprofit Casey Trees, providing free trees to residents in census tracts with low tree canopy coverage.

The three tracts targeted for the pilot program are all along the Richmond Highway corridor and within the Mount Vernon and Franconia Districts.

Since April 2021, residents living in those areas have planted 139 free trees on their properties. While a bit short of the 150-tree goal, the county has deemed the pilot program enough of a success to make it a “recurring program,” per an update to the Board of Supervisors last month.

The aim of the permanent program is to expand the tree canopy in other census tracts. A less expansive tree canopy often coincides with more “economically vulnerable neighborhoods,” Department of Public Works and Environmental Services spokesperson Sharon North wrote FFXnow in an email.

With that consideration, the program will be targeting census blocks in the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Fairfax County during its next planting cycle said North.

Money for the program will come out of the county’s Tree Preservation and Planting Fund and will be managed by a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. The fund’s current balance is $208,000, North said. Any additional funding recommendations will go to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors as part of its annual budget process.

Nearby localities like Arlington have similar programs to increase tree canopy in neighborhoods where it’s insufficient, which contributes to heat and temperature increases.

Back in 2021, Fairfax County staff identified 4,000 single-family and multi-family addresses within the three census tracts that would benefit from increased tree canopy.

Casey Trees devised a marketing campaign that sent out letters and greeting cards advertising the availability of free trees to those residents, who ultimately planted 139 trees.

That’s about a 3.5% success rate — higher than the industry average of 2%.

A majority of the trees planted were medium to large, including shingle oaks, river birches, hackberry trees, and honeylocust ‘shademasters.’

“Larger trees provide more shading, cooling, stormwater control, and related benefits over their smaller counterparts,” Casey Trees said in a report. “Not just to the property where the tree is planted but also to the neighborhood at large.”

The pilot program cost the county about $60,000, approximately $11,000 in marketing materials and close to $49,000 for the actual trees. It cost $350 per planted tree.

The report also provided a few recommendations to help grow the program.

Proposals included increasing the number of trees provided to one particular lot from three to five, noting that “residents often requested more,” as well as sending out arborists for site visits to increase education and displaying “free tree” yard signs in eligible neighborhoods.

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Fairfax County Fire and Rescue ambulance

A man died after possibly being electrocuted while trimming tree branches in the Fairfax area near George Mason University this morning (Friday), Fairfax County Police Department wrote in a tweet.

The man was found suspended by a rope about 25 feet up in the tree when units from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department arrived around 8:30 a.m., the department reported.

Technical rescue crews were able to free the man and brought him to the ground. However, he sustained life-threatening injuries and was transported to a hospital, where he later died.

Police said officrs are now on the scene in the 4600 block of Luxberry Drive and believe the man was electrocuted. Detectives are en route to conduct a death investigation.

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Morning Notes

A woodpecker perches on a tree branch (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

FCPS Proposes Limiting Phone and Social Media Use — “Proposed updates to school policies in Fairfax County Public Schools would ban students from using social media sites for non-academic purposes during school hours and define when cellphones can be used during the school day.” The phone policy has already been implemented at Herndon middle and high schools. [WTOP]

Falls Church Development Under Construction — Developer Insight Property Group will break ground today (Friday) on its 2.7-acre Broad and Washington project, which has been in the works since 2015. The mixed-use development will eventually include a 50,000-square-foot Whole Foods, 339 residential units, space for the theater nonprofit Creative Cauldron, a public plaza, and ground-floor retail. [Falls Church News-Press]

Police Officer Saves Glued Snake — “This little snake is alive and free tonight thanks to @FairfaxCountyPD’s Animal Protection Police Officer McLemore! The snake was caught in a glue trap, and it took time, care, and mineral oil to free him. Thank you for rescuing this little guy!” [Fairfax Animals/Twitter]

Metro Police to Increase Presence — “The Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) says they are increasing their visibility on trains, buses, and in stations to help deter crime…Crime has not spiked on Metro recently, but it certainly has not dropped at the same proportion that ridership has.” [DCist]

Vienna Plants Tree for Arbor Day — “Help Vienna celebrate the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day by planting a tree with us tomorrow, Friday, April 29! We’ll plant a white Dogwood with the help of local Girl Scout Troops 1489, 50056, and 50157. The event starts at 5 p.m. next to the Vienna Community Center front entrance.” [Vienna Happenings]

Meeting Planned on Mount Vernon RECenter Project — The Fairfax County Park Authority will update the public at a meeting on Wednesday (May 4) on its expansion plan, which will require a two-year closure starting early 2023. Staff will explain the project schedule, including the timing of the recently approved facility closure due to supply chain issues and key infrastructure system failures. [FCPA]

Tornados Becoming More of a Risk in D.C. Area — “While it has been 20 years since the La Plata disaster, its occurrence is a reminder that the D.C. region is vulnerable to devastating whirlwinds on par with those of famed tornado alleys in the Great Plains and Deep South. The D.C. region also sees much more frequent tornadoes of lesser strength.” [The Washington Post]

Consulting Firm Workers Help Clean Reston — “As part of Earth Day last week, employees from Virtual, Inc. picked up trash and helped to beautify the area surrounding their offices at 11130 Sunrise Valley Drive in Reston…Virtual is a professional services firm that works with associations and technology standards groups that are forming, growing and changing, according [to CEO Andy] Freed.” [Patch]

Registration Open for Hunter Mill Bicycle Tour — “Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn is hosting the 2nd annual Tour de Hunter Mill on Saturday, May 14, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event, including a five-mile family route and a 18-mile route, begins in the Town of Vienna at the Town Green, located at 144 Maple Ave. East.” [Hunter Mill District Office]

It’s Friday — Clear throughout the day. High of 62 and low of 38. Sunrise at 6:14 am and sunset at 8:01 pm. [Weather.gov]

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A project to widen the Herndon Parkway has taken away trees — to the dismay of some community members.

Crews with heavy machinery are still surrounding Haley M. Smith Park, located at the intersection with Van Buren Street, replacing a corridor of trees once along the parkway.

“I want to cry when I drive through that intersection,” one Herndon resident wrote last week on Nextdoor. “There had to be a better way.”

Work on the year-long project began last month. It will widen travel lanes to 11 feet, install on- and off-road bicycle lanes in each direction, and make other modifications intended to improve the overall pedestrian experience in the area.

There are no plans to replant the trees at this time, Herndon spokesperson Anne Curtis said in an email.

The Nextdoor commenter wasn’t the only one dissatisfied. Several people, including children, have noticed the change.

“It’s incredibly sad to see decades old trees taken down within hours,” another person wrote.

Others countered that the project will bring upgrades.

The $5.3 million project also calls for stormwater management improvements, utility relocations, and the addition of a turning lane, part of a broader effort to transform the area for the future opening of the Herndon Metro station.

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Morning Notes

Office buildings on Arlington Boulevard near Seven Corners (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 9 a.m.) County Board Chair Tests Positive for Covid — Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay announced last night (Monday) that he has tested positive for COVID-19. He reported experiencing “minor symptoms which are uncomfortable but manageable” and is currently working from home and quarantining. [Jeff McKay/Twitter]

Johnny Depp Fans Wait at Courthouse — “Fans who stood outside the main entrance of the Fairfax County Courthouse with the hopes of glimpsing actor Johnny Depp as he appeared for the first day of his defamation trial were disappointed. The ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ star skipped the crowds and entered the courthouse through another door.” [Patch]

Sen. Mark Warner Visits for Affordable Housing Talk — “Every community needs access to affordable housing. Glad to deliver funding to Fairfax County today to create up to 250 affordable housing units and talk to local leaders about how we can further support their initiatives at a federal level.” [Mark Warner/Twitter]

Trees Cut Down for Mount Vernon Bicycle Trail Project — “Construction to improve and link the Mount Vernon Bike Trail along the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway is in its early stages and to clear the way, a significant number of trees have been cut down along the road. According to the project team, there is no plan to replant additional trees when the project is completed, a county spokesperson said.” [The Connection]

Tysons Real Estate Leaders Explore Nats Sale — The Lerner family, which is behind the Tysons II development master plan, has hired an investment bank to explore potential investment partners for the Washington Nationals, The Washington Post reported. Mark Lerner, the baseball club’s managing principal owner, called the move “exploratory” with “no set timetable or expectation of a specific outcome.” [Patch]

County Unemployment Rate Declines — “Inflation may be eating away at their earnings, but a larger share of Fairfax County residents had jobs in February than a month before, according to new federal data…The county’s unemployment rate for the shortest month of the year stood at 2.5 percent, down from 2.9 percent a month before.” [Sun Gazette]

Local LGBTQ+ Advocates Worried About New Law — “Under a new law, Virginia school districts must notify parents whenever instructional materials include sexually explicit content and must provide parents alternative, non-explicit materials if requested…FCPS Pride said the bill ‘creates an adversarial relationship between teachers and parents or guardians.'” [The Washington Post]

Public Safety Workers Honored in Reston — “Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce officials on March 31 honored police, fire-and-rescue and Sheriff’s Office employees for their outstanding acts of public protection. More than 600 people attended the 44th annual Fairfax County Valor Awards, held at the Hyatt Regency Reston.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Herndon Plans Town-Wide Clean-Up — “The annual spring clean-up, an opportunity for residents to place large or bulky items curbside for pickup, takes place April 27-29. Pickup is on your trash day only.” [Town of Herndon]

It’s Tuesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 72 and low of 53. Sunrise at 6:37 am and sunset at 7:44 pm. [Weather.gov]

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