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.
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