The Need for A Greener Arlington

Arlington County government promotes itself as a leader in protecting the environment, pointing to reductions in carbon emissions and increases in newly constructed, energy efficient LEED certified office buildings.

But looks are deceiving, and the numbers behind Arlington’s green image belie its commitment to the environment. For one thing the Columbia Pike Form Based Code, which governs development along the Pike is exempt from the LEED energy efficiency standards imposed elsewhere in the County.

Also the County itself acknowledged in 2010 that “Over the past 30 years, heavy tree canopy coverage across the County has decreased by more than 40%.”

Long time civic activist Suzanne Sundburg attributes the loss of Arlington’s tree canopy to its so-called “Smart Growth” policies. In a recent letter to the editor of the Falls Church News-Press she said:

Arlington’s land-use policies and scorched-earth development practices have contributed, among other things, to poor local air quality. The American Lung Association gives Arlington an F for air quality/smog.

Sundburg also reported that no one in the County is presently tasked with assessing the increase in flood risk due to the loss of tree canopy, current land use practices, and the effects of climate change.

Loss of mature tree canopy has accelerated since 2010 with destruction of approximately 80-100+ mature trees each at new or expanded school construction sites, including Discovery, Ashlawn, Abingdon, McKinley and Stratford.

The loss of green space is sure to continue unabated with the County’s recent decision to eliminate building height and setback limits for schools constructed in S3-A zoning districts, i.e. on public land.

The shortsightedness of “Smart Growth” advocates and County officials in promoting growth to the detriment of green space points out the need for a campaign to green Arlington County. What is at stake here is not simply maintaining tree canopy for shade and green space for recreation, it is part and parcel of our quality of life.

Smart Growth as presently understood will replace residential neighborhoods with upper middle class slums. Most of us know we can’t afford the rent in those high rises already. What we don’t appreciate is that we can’t afford the side effects of Smart Growth either. Enter the Campaign for a Greener Arlington.