The future of Vienna’s trees will rest on a new town council.
When it met on Monday (Nov. 13), the current Vienna Town Council was scheduled to finalize a proposal aimed at preserving and enhancing the town’s tree canopy, which has declined over the past decade.
But after a public hearing on noise and other agenda items pushed the meeting past midnight, the council voted instead to discuss the tree conservation ordinance in a 5 p.m. conference session before its meeting on Dec. 4 — leaving no time for a formal vote before the end of the year, to the disappointment of some council members.
“I think it’s a shame that it’s come down to this, because this is something that’s been known for a long time, and it just has not been acted upon to the level it should’ve been in my opinion,” said Councilmember Steve Potter, who is retiring due to health challenges. “…We’re not doing what we said we were going to do, and that’s the part that bothers me, because it’s just not right.”
Designated a top priority for 2023 by the council, the tree ordinance will increase requirements for canopy coverage — from 20 to 25% for large, single-family residential lots, for example — and introduce new standards and incentives to encourage developers to plant and preserve trees.
If adopted, the conservation ordinance would be just the second one in Virginia, following in the footsteps of Fairfax County, according to a memo from Vienna Director of Planning and Zoning David Levy. Like most localities, Vienna currently requires that developers replace trees, rather than preserve them.
However, the council is still deciding the best approach to implementing the new rules.
One option recommended by Town Attorney Steve Briglia would update the town code chapters on zoning, subdivisions and the Conservation and Sustainability Commission (CSC), whose duties include serving as the town’s tree board. Under this approach, the requirements would still be enforced by the planning and zoning department.
An alternative proposed by Vienna resident and Kirkland & Ellis LLP attorney Brian Land, whose firm was hired to conduct a pro bono analysis in 2020, would create a new chapter in the town code with all tree canopy and preservation requirements. The ordinance would be implemented by the Department of Parks and Recreation and establish a tree commission independent of the CSC.
Tree advocates who testified before the council at a public hearing on Oct. 23 “overwhelmingly” favored Land’s proposal, arguing that it would be broader in scope and make a clearer statement on the importance of trees to Vienna, Gazette Leader reported.
The town attorney recommended giving the planning director authority to allow deviations from canopy requirements in cases where they would cause “unnecessary or unreasonable hardship to the developer.” It also doesn’t require trees to be monitored or inspected after construction.
The Vienna Planning Commission issued a recommendation last Wednesday (Nov. 8) largely supporting Briglia’s proposal with a few tweaks, including a requirement that developers seeking to deviate from the canopy standards justify their request and an added provision for inspecting trees before and after they’re planted similar to what Land suggested.
“This language is consistent with current practice and codifying it will clarify the process for builders and property owners,” the commission said in a memo for the town council.
The council gave no indication on Monday regarding which direction it plans to take but instead spent half an hour debating whether to schedule a conference session on the issue next month, knowing that an actual vote won’t come until a new council takes office.
Mayor Linda Colbert and the three council members who sought reelection this year — Howard Springsteen, Chuck Anderson and Ray Brill — are all set to return. They will be joined by Planning Commissioner Jessica Ramakis, Board of Architectural Review Chair Roy Baldwin and budget analyst Sandra Allen, according to election results finalized Tuesday (Nov. 14).
In response to complaints about the delay on a tree conservation ordinance vote, Colbert noted that the council had accomplished other objectives, including the adoption of an updated zoning code and approval of sidewalk projects facing an October 2024 deadline.
“I don’t think anybody’s trying to push this off,” Colbert said. “I think we have done a tremendous amount of work, this council has, and there’s only so many minutes or hours in a day. Nothing’s lost…We’ve done a lot of work on the trees. It just takes a lot of time.”
Any Fairfax County residents who recently bought a budding tree or shrub may want to keep an eye on its leaves.
A relatively new disease called vascular streak dieback is killing plants from nurseries in Virginia and five other states, the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services’ (DPWES) Urban Forest Management Division says.
“Dieback may look like yellowing or paling of the leaves’ green color (leaf chlorosis), brown or scorched leaf margins and stunting and/or wilting of current year’s growth,” DPWES said in a press release on Tuesday (Oct. 3).
In Virginia, the plants that appear to be most susceptible to the disease are maple, dogwood and redbud trees, according to Virginia Tech and the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VEC), which have cataloged 21 different affected woody ornamental plant species, as of March.
First detected in cacao in Papua New Guinea during the 1960s, vascular streak dieback was mostly confined to southeast Asia until the past couple of years. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) confirmed that the disease had emerged in the state last year.
Researchers have traced the disease to a fungus called Ceratobasidium theobromae, whose spores get carried from plant to plant by the wind, according to DPWES.
“After a spore infects a leaf, it travels into the branch and the main stem’s woody tissue, eventually killing the plant,” the department says. “Researchers continue to study VSD, and the fungus related to it, to find ways to prevent infection and the potential spread into the natural environment.”
Available data on how to prevent VSD is limited, but Virginia Tech and the VEC say it can help to minimize stress on plants by ensuring they have the right amount of soil, water and other conditions needed to stay healthy.
Here’s more from DPWES:
Virgina Cooperative Extension recommends that nurseries ensure best management practices of plant stock to prevent chances of infection. Residents looking for trees in nurseries may consider asking nursery staff about vascular streak dieback and if the internal woody tissue may safely be checked for VSD before purchasing. Also, look for any signs of scorched leaves and buds or dieback of young stems. If VSD is suspected in a recent purchase report it to the Virginia Cooperative Extension and dispose of the plant material correctly to prevent its potential spread. Plants, or the suspected live branches, also may be bagged and either taken or mailed to the Extension, where the disease can be positively identified. If mailing, a two-day delivery is best to avoid damage to live tissue.
The county’s urban forest management team has also been combatting a beech leaf disease that emerged in the area last fall and the invasive spotted lanternfly, which feeds on trees, shrubs and herbs “in unusually large numbers,” DPWES has said.
(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) A years-long effort to build a pedestrian and bicycle trail along Fairfax Blvd (Route 50) is facing a roadblock.
At a public hearing last Tuesday (Sept. 26), the Fairfax City Council deferred action on a special use permit for nearly 12,000 square feet of trail in Shiloh Street Park (10400 Shiloh Street). The affected area requires the permit because it is zoned for residential development.
The Shiloh Street Park passageway, which would include asphalt pavement, a boardwalk and a bridge over the Accotink Creek, would join the partially-constructed George Snyder Trail. Plans for the Snyder trail have been in the works for more than a decade.
Per a July presentation from city staff, the final version of the trail will be 1.78 miles long and offer a route for pedestrians and cyclists parallel to Fairfax Blvd from Chain Bridge Road (Route 123) to Draper Drive, connecting to the Wilcoxon Park trail.
The special use permit request for Shiloh Street Park now appears on the agenda for the council’s Oct. 10 meeting, where it will not require a public hearing. The vote to defer action was unanimous.
Councilmember D. Thomas Ross said he supported the deferral to give the council time to gather additional information and reflect on concerns raised by community members.
Councilmember Kate Doyle Feingold said the proposal was developed to use funding, rather than to serve residents.
Much of the Snyder trail’s $18.8 million estimated cost will be covered by money from the state’s I-66 Outside the Beltway project, which funds 16 projects approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board with the recommendation of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.
“What we need to do is design things that the community and residents want, design things that protect our natural spaces, that make our residents feel safe and comfortable, places people love to go, like Daniels Run Trail,” Doyle Feingold said.
Among other concerns, she said the project would “take down an unnecessary hundreds of trees”
City staff estimate the Shiloh Street Park portion of the project would require removing 59 trees, while the overall project would require removing 568 trees — a prospect that has fueled opposition to the trail from some community members.
A mitigation plan to offset the prospective tree losses would plant 858 trees and 815 shrubs — all native species — in the project area, including 518 trees and 353 shrubs in the resource protection area, a city spokesperson says.
During the public hearing, four individuals who said they live in the Mosby Woods neighborhood near Shiloh Street Park spoke against having an access point to the trail near their homes, citing crime.
Ross said he recognized those concerns, and the city is taking action to address them. Ultimately, though, he remained supportive of the trail.
“From a trail perspective, and from our parks and our open space, opening them up to public access can be a good thing. It adds visibility. It adds public use,” he said.
Ross also said there has been “strong community support” for the trail over the years of its development.
The Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling called on riders to support trail construction ahead of a city council work session in July.
The vote on the Shiloh Street Park special use permit is not the last action the city council will take on the trail project this year. If the permit is approved, the body will vote this winter to award a contract for construction, which is scheduled for spring 2024, per city staff’s July presentation.
In an effort to reverse a decrease in the tree canopy, Vienna’s government is taking another step towards tree preservation and plantings. Last week, the town council discussed proposed amendments to enhance tree canopy, including moving forward with a tree conservation ordinance and the possible creation of an independent tree commission.
Town Attorney Steven Brigalia said the tree conservation ordinance would put the town in line with Fairfax County, which has had conservation rules since 1990. He said it would require builders to indicate which trees can and cannot be saved before cutting them.
“They are still allowed to develop their property,” Brigalia said. “But they have to upfront identify the trees and give justification if they’re going to take out trees, and then they still have to meet a canopy requirement.”
Under the town’s current canopy requirements, developers are only required to replace eliminated trees to meet canopy standards. Also, for single-family residential lots, builders must provide enough trees to cover at least 20% of the lot after 20 years. A conservation ordinance would increase that 20-year standard to 25%.
Brigalia said the town would have to provide provisions if they increase the standard to 25%. For example, if a developer says they are unable to preserve a 25% canopy, they would pay into a tree bank or tree fund.
There’s also a requirement for allowing additional credits for the developer if they provide certain types of trees.
Brigalia also hopes to strengthen the town’s tree board.
“There’s not a lot of authority for what they can do except advise the town on good tree planning processes and advise the town on planning on public property,” he said, adding that the board could eventually give recommendations of where to plant trees with money from the tree fund.
Councilmember Howard Springsteen said he hadn’t heard of the tree board in his 14 years of service.
“I never heard of it, so I rather have a tree commission that reports to council,” he said.
Springsteen also said residents are starting to voice concern about the town’s tree coverage, prompting the need for the council to act according to council member Ray Brill.
“We need to set up something separate, that focuses on tree canopy if, in fact, we believe it’s an issue. I personally believe it’s an issue, and we need to focus on it and get it done and get it done,” Brill said.
The council voted to refer the proposed ordinance to the planning commission for their consideration and review. A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Oct. 23.
About 88% of the 7,224 trees on public land examined by PlanIT Geo are in “fair” or “good” condition, the consultant told the Vienna Town Council when presenting its findings on June 20.
“I’ve looked at a lot of data across a lot of projects, and I don’t think I’ve seen one as good of health as Vienna’s trees are in,” PlanIT Geo Director of Field Operations TJ Wood said, decreeing the town’s tree population to be in “very good health” overall.
That does still leave roughly 722 trees that were found to be in poor condition or dead, according to the inventory, which was initiated based on a recommendation by an urban tree canopy assessment that the town received last October.
Focused on trees on public property, including any within the street right-of-way and parks, the inventory identified tulip poplars as the species with the highest mortality rate at 12 dead trees. The species with the biggest showing in the “poor” category was red maple, which isn’t surprising when it constitutes 16.6% of the total inventory, Wood said.
He reported that, while Vienna has “a very diverse urban forest overall” with 162 unique species, the top 10 most common species make up almost 51% of the population, led by the 1,200 red maples recorded by PlanIT Geo.
“There’s a lot of room to diversify tree plantings and try new species out,” Wood said.
In another sign that Vienna could use some more trees, less than 30% of its trees have a diameter of 1 to 6 inches, suggesting the town is “lacking in new plantings.” Wood added that the town could get close to the ideal rate of 40% if it puts a tree in all 1,222 sites that the inventory identified as suitable for plantings.
Despite the overall healthiness of Vienna’s urban forest, the inventory says 3,968 trees, or 65% are in need of some maintenance. The majority are recommended for some kind of pruning to remove dead wood and hanging limbs or prevent them from growing into utility lines, signs and other infrastructure.
However, 290 trees were deemed to be at moderate risk, meaning they should be revisited at least once a year, and there are 25 high-risk trees.
“I would recommend anyone visit immediately and get another set of eyes on them, decide whether those need to be removed, or if there is a mitigating factor that can be done to reduce that risk to public safety,” Wood said, pointing to a red maple with a split trunk that could fall on a street or sidewalk as an example of a high-risk tree.
Vienna Park Maintenance Superintendent Jeremy Edwards noted that there are still some trees in parks, including Northside and Wildwood, that haven’t been examined and added to the inventory yet. The survey didn’t include trees on private property and along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, which isn’t town-owned.
All of the data collected is now publicly available through a TreePlotter database that town staff will be able to update in real time.
Last year’s tree canopy assessment found that the town’s canopy has declined by 163 acres, or 13%, since 2011. In January, the town council designated improving the canopy as a top priority for 2023, and Vienna is currently considering an ordinance that would require developers to preserve trees, instead of just replacing ones they cut down.
In an effort to reduce heat islands in vulnerable communities, the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services has applied for millions of dollars in grant funding to establish a street tree planting program.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the department’s request on Tuesday (June 6) to apply for a $11.5 million Inflation Reduction Act Urban and Community Forestry (UCF) grant from the U.S. Forest Service.
“The grant period is five years from the award date which is anticipated to be October 2023,” the board meeting package said.
Department of Public Works and Environmental Services spokesperson (DPWES) Sharon North told FFXnow the department is proposing to plant 1,000 trees over a five-year period. Although the county is looking at vulnerable communities, she said “no decision on the grant recipients will be made until October.”
The Forest Service announced the funding opportunity back in April. The UCF program received $1.5 billion under the Inflation Reduction Act to support urban tree planting and forest planning and management in at-risk communities.
“The Resilient Fairfax Plan notes that 91 percent of vulnerable households are in areas identified as having a significantly high urban heat island effect and that vulnerable populations are more likely to be impacted by extreme heat,” the package said.
Factors considered by the county’s vulnerability index include household income, education, English proficiency, health insurance and the percentage of the population that owns a home or vehicle.
If the county is awarded the funds, the program will also promote tree planting through partnerships with the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Fairfax County Park Authority, Fairfax County Public Schools, and nonprofit organizations.
The county also identifies specific activities that will receive the funding:
- identifying areas in the county that are heat vulnerable low tree canopy and/or areas where green infrastructure would provide additional community and resilience benefits
- planting and maintaining up to 5,000 native and/or climate-resilient street trees over five years in neighborhoods and within the right-of-way and on public property
- educating and engaging the public on the benefits of green spaces and trees
- expansion of a green workforce to maintain existing and new street trees.
The county launched a pilot program in 2021 that provides free trees to residents of areas with minimal tree canopy coverage. The program initially focused on the Richmond Highway corridor but was expected to shift to Bailey’s Crossroads this year.
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.
“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