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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

FXCO orders community to plant 400 trees and shrubs - or be penalized

The site in dispute is between the Glen Forest Pool and Long Branch Creek.
When residents of Glen Forest in Bailey’s Crossroads decided to clean up a vacant area next to the community pool—clearing out poison ivy and other vines—to provide a nice, safe space for picnics and children’s recreation, they had no idea they would be penalized for it.

Yet that is exactly what’s going on. It turns out the land in question, which is next to Long Branch Creek, is in a Resource Protection Area (RPA). In May, Fairfax County found the community association in violation of the RPA rules and ordered the community to replant the area. RPAs have been designated next to waterways to filter stormwater, prevent erosion, and ultimately protect the Chesapeake Bay.

Glen Forest estimates it would cost $10,000 to $15,000 to restore the area to the county’s specifications.

If the community’s board fails to comply, it could face a $2,500 fine and a year in jail. If the matter goes to court, it could be subject to a $5,000 civil penalty. The land is owned by the Glen Forest Community Association and is adjacent to the Glen Forest Pool.

“We didn’t know it was an RPA,” said Glen Forest Board President Karen Haworth.  The county would never have even known about the matter if an anonymous resident hadn’t complained, she said.

“If we receive complaints, we have to investigate,” said Melissa Smarr, a code specialist with the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES).

The county is ordering the community to plant 400 trees and shrubs native to Virginia in a 12,600-square foot area. The county initially called for all the land in the RPA within 100 feet of Long Branch Creek to be filled in. The Glen Forest board convinced the county to reduce that to 50 feet and wants it reduced even more, but the county won’t budge another inch.

The community is required to submit a water quality impact assessment and replanting plan—identifying all the plants they will put in—by Aug. 30. The new plants must be in the ground by May 30, 2014.

According to Glen Forest board member Ginny McNair, they need to install 28 trees (for the “overstory”), 56 trees that will stay small (the “understory”), and 300 shrubs. The new plants have to be nursery grown, so they can’t be transferred from public lands.

Smarr said the county has provided information to the community about nonprofit organizations that can donate trees. “We’ve been working with the association. Our goal is not to bankrupt them,” she said.

It’s important to have sufficient trees along waterways, Smarr said. “Trees add a natural buffer, make sure the area doesn’t get flooded, protect the stream, and prevent it from getting polluted.”

The area was designated an RPA in 1993, and the RPA was expanded in 2003. Neither Haworth nor other long-time residents of the Glen Forest board have any recollection of receiving letters from the county notifying them about the RPA nor spelling out what can or can’t be done in an RPA.

The community disagrees with the county’s contention that the entire area in question had been completely forested. Board member Ginny McNair has a photo of the area taken in 2004 showing that much of the area that was supposed to be wooded  was covered with grass. She said it was the county that denuded the area while repairing a sewer line in 2004.

McNair notes that the state of Virginia’s guidelines for planting in an RPA are much less demanding than the county’s. She also said county is requiring too many plants than is healthy for an area that size. “These rules don’t make sense,” she said.

Haworth has asked Mason Supervisor Penny Gross to help, and Gross promised to ask the Board of Supervisors to waive the $350 fee the community is required to pay just to submit its plan.

According to Haworth, the board has recruited volunteers for many stream cleanup projects over the past 20 years to clear out tangled vines, pick up litter, and generally improve the health and safety of the site. While the neighbor who complained charged that healthy trees were cut down, Haworth said the only trees that were removed had already been knocked down during last year’s derecho or previous storms or were dead and in danger of falling down.

“No one wants to go to jail, so we will go ahead with this,” Haworth said. “At first, people really wanted to fight this, but we don’t have the time, energy, or money to do that.”

The Glen Forest board asked community residents to contribute to the plant-buying effort. So far, they’ve received $200 from one resident, $50 from someone else, and few donated plants. The community has also tried to find a land use attorney to help them fight the RPA violation pro bono, but has so far come up short.

Meanwhile, the majority of board members’ terms expire in March, including hers, so it’s not clear who will be responsible for taking charge of the replanting next spring. Faced with this obligation, “no one in their right mind would want to be on the board,” she said.

13 comments:

  1. This is just awful. Can common sense please win the day? Jail time? Puhlease! These small associations are held together by a small, dedicated core of volunteers. More often than not, they are overwhelmed by county bureaucracy (not just Fairfax). They try to do some good and get slammed for it. And Haworth is right... no one will want to serve on their board. Maybe they can get the complainer to run things.

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  2. The organization should
    1. spend every red cent of their funds on legitimate neighborhood needs
    2. Declare bankruptcy and/or
    3. Resign and dissolve the organization
    4. Tell FXCO to stick it where the sun don't shine

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  3. I understand the fear associated with something like this that the government covets being able to use to intimidate but I would say go to court. Would any reasonable judge put a civic association board in jail for doing a good deed? It would cost the county more in resources to sue then it would just to fix this, something that looks bad for them to begin with. Ask the local political leader to show up in court to support. The judge likely at worst would impose the $2,500 fine (assuming max)and $5K civil which is far less than the $10-15K the county requires with its absurd native Va. plant request. The plants and dead trees there before were not probably native. If you walk away it will regrow with true native plants just like or close to what it was before. This all assumes that the county wins. Can the county prove what was removed? If not the civic association should only replace what the county can prove was there at the time this happened. It's not supposed to be an opportunity for the County to build a perfect PRA site which it certainly wasn't before. Sounds like a sledge hammer demand by the county for a small unintentional transgression. The civic association needs to find more pictures to prove their side. Also, the civic association needs to petition the county for the records supporting the sewer work performed there in 2004.

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  4. civic associations go to war against denser development based, in part, on dangers to precious streams, stormwater issues, etc.

    Now some CA gets bitten in the behind by the same thing.

    It is to laugh.

    Maybe the association can do a deal with the county - get a waiver on the requirement, in exchange for supporting denser development on some nearby parcel?

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    1. Make a deal with the County... ha, ha, ha

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  5. Or, perhaps the civic association can replant the trees that they shouldnt have cut down in the first place. The Resource Protected Areas provide a valuable service in helping to keep our water clean. They certainly could have removed the invasive plants without taking down the trees.

    There are organizations that can help. You can download tree coupons at www.fcrpp3.org to save on nursery stock trees at Cravens Nursery. They have a list of native trees that can qualify. The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia offers free Ambassadors that can help.

    I understand the frustration, but I also understand the RPA value. We are overdeveloped and these last little bits of green are all we have left. We have to think of them differently. There are vast amounts of space for children to play all over the county and they have invested a lot in that and very little in preservation of green space. When they are gone, we will miss them. The county has aerial photos of tree canopy and would definitely be able to prove the cutting. Just replant and turn this area into a bird sanctuary that will provide the children a different kind of delight. And they can enjoy the lightening bugs in the summer.

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    1. The thing is.......no trees were cut down! EVER! The area in question has been an open grassy area for at least 30 if not 40 years. The county is asking us to restore and area that since 1965 has not had a 100ft buffer much less 400 trees or shrubs in it as the county is requesting us to plant. There have been trees that have fallen over the years due to storms such as Hurricane Irene and the derecho last year but no trees have been cut down by anyone. We too have photos proving that the area has been an open grassy area for years, unfortunately we are a very poor and struggling community association who doesn't have the funds to hire a lawyer to fight this in court. I get the whole RPA thing. If we were truly at fault we would totally fix it but this is based on a person who for what ever reason decided to call in a bogus complaint. They don't have to prove anything. any crazy or deranged person can call in a complaint to the county and the county has to act on it. no questions asked. bottom line!

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    2. I do understand. And I am sorry for this burden. If your community could get together and individually download the coupons they are for a 50% discount at Cravens Nursery. This could cut the tree budget you have to plant in half. You could get the seedling understory from Fairfax ReLeaf probably at little or no cost. This is an offer of help. I'm sorry this has happened, but there are resources for assistance which is what I'm offering. This apparently is a linear footage issue and restoration of this area has to happen.

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    3. THEY DID NOT TAKE DOWN ANY TREES!! They chopped up DEAD trees! What is it about this that makes any sense.

      The County did tons of work down there and denuded the area to put up retaining walls, re-route the constantly flooding creek and to do sewer work. To suggest that taking out POISON IVY is a violation of the RPC AND to make the Community Association plant trees that the County should have replaced after their construction work is criminal and ridiculous.

      Why Glen Forest is not fighting this is only a tribute to the County's phenomenal abuse of power and abudant resources being brought against a broke association that can barely keep up the area on volunteers.

      Sheesh - the County should be ashamed and Penny Gross should step in.

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  6. "The County did tons of work down there and denuded the area to put up retaining walls, re-route the constantly flooding creek and to do sewer work."

    The County should be ashamed. Trying to avoid constant flooding. Imagine!

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  7. The area is not in a natural condition and appears to be like a back yard with a lawn. It is nice for people to use the area, but there should be a balance for people's use and the protection of our streams. Maybe the area could be planted so it could be used for passive activities. I understand you want to do what you want to do, but there are rules we all must follow for everyone's good.

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  8. Does Google earth have any good "before" photos that could better document the previous condition?

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  9. Are there any updates re: this issue?

    I am a fellow Fairfax County resident who is having the same issue (by myself).

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