August 28, 2017 VIA Email
Long Range Planning Supervisor
Department of Parks and Recreation
Arlington County, Virginia
Dear Ms. Lazic:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Public Spaces Master Plan Draft. We believe the draft Public Spaces Master Plan can be improved in several important ways.
We are members of an ad hoc group of citizens concerned with tree preservation in Arlington named the Arlington Tree Action Group. We, like a growing number of Arlingtonians, are very concerned about the rapid pace of removals. On July 26, we hosted a meeting of more than 40 Arlington residents and organizations actively involved with tree preservation to identify and discuss these issues. We found strong, unanimous support for the proposition that trees should be protected through public and private channels, as well as many thoughtful ideas for improving the urban forest over time. Drawing on their insights and our own work to preserve trees in Arlington, we will each be submitting our individual sets of comments for consideration.
Our main concern is that, taken as a whole, the draft Plan does not adequately address the severity of the loss of tree canopy already impacting our county and the attendant reduction in the numerous community benefits from a protected natural environment.
Page 25 of the Plan outlines the environmental and economic benefits of trees to Arlington. This is not adequately reflected in the Plan. While the Priority Action 1.6 (pg. v. & pg. 97) states that “nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents indicated they would support maintaining and preserving existing trees and natural areas — the highest rated improvement to the parks and recreation system,” Action 1.6 includes no items to address trees specifically at all. This is a glaring omission to any open space plan. Action Plan 3.4.2 vaguely proposes to only “Promote the planting, preservation, and maintenance of canopy trees on public and private land” with no measures for success.
The draft Plan also reflects the fragmented and dysfunctional approach to dealing with public spaces by conducting the planning using a “silo” approach. Arlington’s Natural Resource Plans and Urban Forest Plans are mentioned for updating as a possible follow-on to this Plan. It is clear from the Priority Action 1.6 that trees and other natural resources must be addressed now and in coordination with these two plans as well as other departments in County government. Better integration could yield a smaller number of high-level goals, each supported by specific, measurable objectives that could be more effectively implemented. For instance, with regard to preserving Arlington’s urban forest, there is a recognition that residents consider this is a priority (Priority 1.6) but a survey of the tree canopy is not scheduled in time to provide essential information in defining the context and the goals needed for natural areas. Also, some of the action items are in direct conflict with tree preservation such as stream restoration and intensified use of parklands. In order to properly balance between recreational and other priorities, these connections across the Plan must be recognized in the Plan and methods for meaningful and effective cost/benefit analyses established. Coordination of activities and budgets across functions will also lead to efficient budgeting and implementation. Rather than create an Inter-Agency Coordinating Board, we urge the County to designate a Tree Ombudsman to maintain a focus on tree preservation and re-development throughout County activities. To be effective, such a person must have sufficient authority to cross organizational lines within the units of County government.
We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the Draft Plan. We believe that significant improvements can be made and urge the County to solicit more community input through open “listening” meetings at easily accessible locations and times for individual citizens as well as organizations before preparing a final draft. We are not anti-development, but rather support smart development that benefits all.
In sum, we believe the steps outlined in this letter are vital to mitigate the increasing impacts of climate change and to ensure a healthy environment for all in the long term.
Founding Members of the Arlington Tree Action Group:
CC: Jay Fisette
Mark Schwartz, County Manager
Jane Rudolph, Director, DPR
Caroline Haynes, Co-Chair, Public Spaces Master Plan Committee