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Demise Of The Dawn Redwood, Lee Highway’s Future & Your Backyard

They say that April showers bring May flowers, but in Mary?s and my case, it?s all about the vegetables. There?s nothing like the smell of freshly turned earth in the spring, and now our garden herbs and lettuces bring color and flavor, as well! Pick up inspiration at one of Arlington?s ten Farmers Markets sprouting around the County. Can you name them all?

But the garden isn?t the only thing I?m tending!

Demise of the Dawn Redwood: Last year, as County Board liaison to Arlington?s Urban Forestry Commission, I championed preservation of the now-felled dawn redwood tree on North Ohio Street in Williamsburg, even contacting the developer to make a personal appeal to save it. Richmond Homes purchased a vintage house on a double lot and filed plans to replace it with two new homes, which precipitated the destruction of the stately 114 foot heritage dawn redwood, notwithstanding the fact that it was within the boundaries of an official Resource Protection Area (RPA). An RPA is intended to protect local waters and the sprawling Chesapeake Bay from degradation caused by development, whether commercial or residential, yet Arlington County felt powerless to prevent the tree loss.

As noted in the Arlington Connection, I believed strongly that the County owed the public an explanation for its paralysis, and secured a commitment from the County Manager and County Attorney to collaborate on a public-facing memorandum to explain their analysis ?for the ultimate conclusion that the County could not legally mandate that the dawn redwood be saved.? That was eight months ago, but finally, at the April 2019 County Board meeting, Urban Forestry Commissioner and Arlington Tree Action Group (ATAG) member Kit Norland coaxed assurances from Manager Mark Schwartz that the long-awaited memo is imminent.

This episode brings home the need for new local tools and a more proactive posture by everyone to save and enhance our threatened tree canopy. I?ll be watching closely the County?s updating of our Urban Forest Master Plan and Natural Resources Management Plan, two key documents which will signal the County?s intentions. See what you can do to help.

Ramifications of Stand-Alone ADU?s: Speaking of trees, the outcome of this Saturday?s County Board meeting could well impact your neighborhood?s tree canopy?and your privacy as well. While the Board appears likely to legalize freestanding accessory dwelling units (ADU?s) as a non-taxpayer financed way to boost housing affordability for both property owners (think rental income) and new renters alike (think relatively affordable rents), setback requirements are up for grabs. Though County staff advocates a reasonable and fairly common five foot setback from the property line for most new ADU?s, some housing advocates favor a tiny one foot setback to swell the supply. Yet doing so could mean significant tree and vegetation loss and impact stormwater runoff, not just on host properties but adjacent ones as well, due to root zone impact. A one foot setback would also create narrow yard space, which would be difficult to access and maintain. (Detached ADU?s would carry maximum building height of the smaller of 1.5 stories or 25 feet, maximum size of 750 square feet depending on lot size, and maximum of three occupants.) For the full scoop, read the online Board Report. Then let your elected officials know what you think by writing to the Board.

Lee Highway?s Future: Fresh from a long-range plan for the Four Mile Run Valley and a revitalized Jennie Dean Park, County planners view Lee Highway as the next planning frontier?and that means you better pay attention! While any corridor?s evolution is, to a large degree, organic, Arlington?s goals include a more commercially vibrant, greener and pedestrian-friendly street, with the big issues simmering around intensity and location of increased density, the future of many small businesses, and the control (state v local) and character of the street itself. Share your vision at an upcoming event, and check out the the community-based nonprofit Lee Highway Alliance.