|The site in dispute is between the Glen Forest Pool and Long Branch Creek.|
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.