VDOT’s ‘Charlie Brown’ Street Trees & ARB’s Double Standard

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By Neil Williamson, President

Much like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, the young street trees planted as cbrown christmas treepart of the Route 29 Solutions projects may be the very best suited to provide the long term tree canopy desired, but if such trees were a part of a private application (residential, industrial or commercial) they would be summarily rejected – just like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.

The public policy question is: Should a tree planted on behalf of a state agency along one of Albemarle County’s 21(!) Entrance Corridors meet the County’s requirements for private businesses locating on said corridor?

In fairness, most would reply yes. Not in Albemarle.

Please let me explain.

Merriam-Webster defines a double standard as:

a set of principles that applies differently and usually more rigorously to one group of people or circumstances than to another;

20171127_112426
US 29 Northbound (just South of Ashwood Boulevard)

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will look back on 2017 in Charlottesville as a year of getting things done.  Working with motivated contractors (and elected officials) the Route 29 Solutions projects were completed with great agility.

As a part of the projects, VDOT contractors planted literally thousands of plants along US 29 and Berkmar Extended.  Each and every one of these plants have a one year guarantee from the contractor.   Therefore it is in the contractor’s best interest to plant trees that meet the VDOT standard and with the highest likelihood for survival.

Very few (if any) of these trees would meet Albemarle’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) trunk requirement of 3 1/2”.

University of Missouri researcher W. Todd Watson, writing in Hortitechnology magazine, found virtually no difference in the eventual height of trees when caliper size was used as a metric for success.  image

Filled with engineers, VDOT is nothing if not specific about their tree planting activity.  The have an arborist on staff to assist in species selection as well as planting details.  Nowhere in VDOT Section 1200 Landscape can we find any information regarding mandated tree caliper size.  Could it be that VDOT prefers to allow the design professionals determine the most efficient and effective landscaping over the life of the roadway?

20171127_113636
Roundabout Berkmar Drive Ext at Hilton Heights Rd

This double standard was brought to the attention of the ARB and was discussed back in September.  The conversation recognized the higher cost and limited availability of 3 1/2” caliper trees and recognized the maintenance of the trees after transplanting had a significant impact on their rate of survival.  In addition, they mentioned one specific proposal that might be reconsidered based on this information and asked for that project to come back the following meeting.

The specific application that prompted the latest discussion was on the agenda on October 2nd but after a two week hiatus, the ARB seemed to have a change of heart regarding the flexibility of the “guidelines”

c. ARB-2017-69: North Pointe Middle Entrance Landscape Plan: Tree size

The ARB viewed the revised landscape plan and considered the applicant’s request to use a smaller planting size for EC street trees. It was the consensus of the ARB that the 3½” planting size requirement should be followed for this application, but staff should present additional information on the planting size issue for continued ARB discussion on a more general basis.

While the Free Enterprise Forum does not have an opinion on this application; we do wish the ARB would revisit their planting size requirement decision.  To do so could lower cost for applicants, perhaps increase tree viability and result with the same tree canopy.

In short, we ask the ARB to follow Linus Van Pelt’s advice regarding installation size and maintenance:charliebrowntree2

I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: United Feature Syndicate in cooperation with Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) (1965)

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