Speakers Overwhelmingly Support Washington Avenue Mall Tree Plan

by | Feb 17, 2016 | Government

By Susan Larson. Photo of the forum by Fredericksburg.Today.

“I am heartened to see so much support for the trees tonight,” Tree Fredericksburg Founder Anne Little said during her public comment near the end of the city’s February 1, 2016, “tree forum.”

More than 150 people gathered at Dorothy Hart Community Center in response to a November 2015 petition signed by some residents of Washington Avenue asking the city “to halt the ongoing attempt to convert Washington Avenue Mall to forest land.”

“Over a period of eight years the City of Fredericksburg planted 50 trees on the Washington Avenue Mall as part of the Street Tree Plan adopted by City Council in 2005 and revitalized by the Clean and Green Commission in 2007,” Little said. “In that time, no one contacted City Council, city staff or the Clean and Green Commission with concerns.”

But the residents who signed the Petition to Halt the Conversion of Washington Avenue Mall to Forest Land said they were not consulted about the city’s plan.

“Notwithstanding the Comprehensive Plan, a private organization, Tree Fredericksburg, has been steadily planting trees in the median of Washington Avenue during the past two years with the apparent acquiescence of the City and without input or consent from the residents,” the petition read.

The approximately* 72 signers want “the City remove all, or most, of the trees planted within Washington Avenue Mall during the past two years and restore the grass that was removed.” (Editor’s note: *Approximately, because we’re counting husbands and wives separately who signed on the same line, and we’re including the illegible names in the count.)

The Washington Avenue Historic District, comprised of the 1200 – 1500 blocks of Washington Avenue and 620 Lewis Street, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It includes the Religious Freedom Monument and monuments dedicated to Mary Washington, Hugh Mercer and George Rogers Clark.

“The ultimate vision for Washington Avenue is a grand avenue with grand houses and grand trees to match,” said Anne Gearon, a landscape architect who serves on the city’s Green Committee. She said all the trees have been carefully chosen to provide beauty through the seasons, enhance and frame the monuments, and provide shade to encourage people to gather. The plan is for “large canopy trees for a grand alley as in Monument Avenue in Richmond,” she said. A 300-foot open space will be preserved in the mall for ball playing and other activities.

Petition organizer and Washington Avenue resident Rich Harrison voiced his group’s disagreement. “We believe the type and number of trees is out of scale for the space, because it will obscure the sight lines,” he said. He called for City Council to “establish a diverse committee and develop an appropriate landscape plan.”

“The Washington Mall is a public space, and the Green and Clean Commission and the city have worked to make it so,” said Senior City Planner Erik Nelson. The city’s plan was created by a 20-member committee, including city staff and arboriculture professionals.

During the public comment period in which 47 people spoke, petition supporters said they wanted the mall to be open grassy space providing unobstructed views of the monuments and memorials. Comparisons were made to the National Mall in Washington D.C., Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Va., and Monticello in Charlottesville.

Washington Avenue resident Jim Beavers said he wanted open space. “Don’t block the homeowner’s views,” he said during his two-minute public comment.

“I believe those who live here [along the mall] should have a bigger vote,” said Susan Brown of Riverside Drive.

Of the 35 who spoke clearly in favor of the city’s current tree plan for Washington Mall, several commented on the importance of trees to the environment.

“Healthy vegetation protects the watershed and preserves the river,” said Bryan Hoffman, Friends of the Rappahannock programs manager and chairman of the Fredericksburg Wetlands Board.

“The tree canopy is an important factor to restoring the Bay,” said Rebecca Hanmer, Fredericksburg resident and former director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Chesapeake Bay Program.

Sally Hall, a 27-year city resident, said she supported the “current, already validated plan,” and was looking forward to being able to “linger” on the mall in the shade the trees will provide.

“I choose to live in Fredericksburg because it’s not all asphalt and cement,” said 20-year-resident Lloyd Stone.

Long & Foster realtor Mari Kelly said research shows that trees increase property value and have an impact on home sales. “We see higher sales prices on homes near tree lined streets and tree filled parks,” she said.

A few speakers called for a compromise.

“The view of the monuments is significant,” said Historic Fredericksburg Foundation President Emily Taggart Schricker. “The U.S. Department of the Interior recognizes the houses and monuments that comprise the avenue.” She suggested a compromise “to give the avenue, monuments and trees the attention they deserve.”

“It’s a neighborhood street,” said Jackie Denison Emery. “I support a balance.”

The city is accepting comments “concerning the appearance of the Washington Mall with respect to trees” through Monday, Feb. 15. “All comments received by the deadline will be forwarded to the Clean and Green Commission, the Department of Parks, Recreation & Public Facilities, and the Department of Public Works for review,” said Dave King, assistant director of public works. Based on the public’s comments, staff will present a recommendation to City Council. “This process will take time; it is a process,” King said.

How to Submit Comments
1 – Via the city’s website form at Washington Avenue Mall Tree Form
2 – In an email to Dave King at [email protected]
3 – Hand delivered to the Department of Public Works Administrative Office at 715 Princess Anne St., Fredericksburg.
4 – Mailed to the City of Fredericksburg, Department of Public Works, P.O. Box 7447, Fredericksburg, Va. 22404.

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