Residents Fight for Trees, Library

Residents Fight for Trees, Library

Several Oakton community groups have joined together to determine the fate of a 19-acre plot of land along Hunter Mill Road, facing the Oakton Shopping Center. There are two issues surrounding the land, which is owned by Laing Homes.

The developer recently clear-cut the land, removing all existing trees. One tenet, necessary for development, was that a county urban forester examine the land and mark which trees could be transplanted and which trees could not. Urban forester Todd Nelson walked the lot in early January and determined that no trees were eligible for transplantation. Accordingly, the developer destroyed all the trees on the lot. Now community advocacy group Options for Oakton is encouraging home buyers to think twice before buying from Laing Homes.

"This demonstrates that Laing is not a good neighbor in Oakton," said George Lehnigk, from Options for Oakton.

The group is also trying to get mature trees replanted around the 58 homes planned to be built. The homes, when built, will start out around $700,000 each.

IN THE NORTHWEST quadrant of the 19-acre parcel there is a four-acre section earmarked for an Oakton Library. But when staff recently released the Fairfax County budget, funding for library renovation and construction was left out. Now the Friends of the Oakton Library, along with the Oakton Women’s Club, are planning to testify at the county budget hearings this Wednesday, April 10. If the groups get the library onto the county Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), they hope to get funding for the project by November. If the library is not put onto the CIP, it could several years before funding is secured.

Linda Byrne, a member of the Oakton Women’s Club, said that Providence District Supervisor Gerald Connolly is behind the library. He has encouraged citizens to speak out in favor of library funding.

“When the budget was put before the supervisors, and library funding was not there as had been proposed, they were all very surprised and wanted it replaced,” Byrne said.

Although no official dates have been set, Byrne said excluding the library from the CIP will set the project back by around two years. If the project is included, it should be finished in 2008. If it is not included, the completion date may be closer to 2010, Byrne said.

Janet Tener, president of the Friends of the Oakton Library, recently got some news further affirming county support for the library.

“I got an e-mail yesterday that said the Planning Commission changed its recommendation to include the library on the bond referendum,” Tener said on Saturday.

Connolly encouraged the previous developer to donate the four-acre plot on which the library is proposed. Because the land was donated, the county said they had money free not only for the Oakton library, but also for renovations to a county library in Burke.

In addition to tree replacement, Options for Oakton is also asking that Laing Homes build a more direct route through the community, to the future library.

IN A LETTER to Connolly, Nelson, the county urban forester, said he “could not find any trees for transplantation due to their size, condition and/or location.” He said the few trees that might have been eligible for transplantation could not be accessed by a tree spade digging machine.

“Utilizing a tree spade on portions of this site would be extremely complicated with the high possibility of getting stuck,” Nelson wrote. “Since there were so few trees identified as possible transplants, it was determined to be more economically feasible to plant nursery stock trees than to attempt to transplant trees from this site.”

Lehnigk said the developer took advantage of the language in the proffer that outlined the tree-transplant requirements. Lehnigk worked to get the proffer language included in the development plans.

"It's obvious the intention was to transplant some trees," Lehnigk said.

TWENTY PERCENT of the site is required to be covered by trees. Around half of that requirement is met with a tree save area along the northern edge of the property, adjacent to the Hunterbrooke neighborhood. The other half of the requirement is being met with tree plantings throughout the development. Around two-fifths of the plantings will be “native large deciduous and large evergreen trees,” said Nelson. The other three-fifths of the plantings will be non-native trees.

Last Saturday Options for Oakton, along with the Friends of the Oakton Library, set up a booth in front of the Oakton Giant Shopping Center. They let people know about the situation at the Laing Homes site, and collected signatures in favor of the library.

Angie Tramonte, from Vienna, was going into the grocery store when she agreed to sign the petition.

“We do need the library and we need the county to fund it,” Tramonte said. “Patrick Henry Library [in Vienna] is too crowded, too small. It used to have a special area for children, but now they have reduced it.”