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Tree Loss

Neighbors complain about clear-cutting on the site of future Commerce Bank.

To the chagrin and shock of several neighbors, bulldozers plowed a commercial lot covered by trees in the Northpoint district last Friday to make way for the first Commerce Bank in Reston.

Several residents nearby have since voiced opposition, wishing they had been better informed of developers’ plans to clear cut the 65,000-square-foot lot on the corner of Baron Cameron Avenue and Bennington Woods Road adjacent to Trader Joe’s.

“It’s really sad,” said Whisper Hill Cluster resident Andrew Guthrie, calling the clear-cutting “arboreal rape.” Guthrie, a 14-year Reston resident, felt one of the Reston Association review boards or Reston’s Planning and Zoning Committee should have prohibited clear-cutting on the site — “particularly when there is an especially attractive wooded area that could have been kept,” he said.

RA’s non-residential covenants counselor, Bryce Perry, fielded calls last week from upset community members complaining about the clear-cutting on the site. “That always happens in Reston whenever there is tree removal, especially clear-cutting,” he said.

ACKNOWLEDGING THAT the developer was within its right to clear-cut and without violation, Perry explained that an aggressive landscaping plan was proposed for the site, which would feature nearly 50 shade-providing trees, including maples, oaks and evergreens, and nearly 30 smaller ornamental trees, like dogwoods and red buds. “Some of the trees they’re putting in will be as large as some of the larger trees that were on the site,” said Perry, who added that extensive neighbor notification had been done to keep the community informed of plans for the site.

David Flaherty, Commerce Bank’s vice president for corporate communications, said the company has always been particular about aesthetics and landscaping. “For now, certainly, there may be folks wondering what’s going on, but I think they will be pleased when everything is done,” said Flaherty.

Before beginning construction, the developer received approval last year from RA’s Design Review Board and the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee.

Sue Straits, a member of Reston’s Planning and Zoning Committee, recalled that tree preservation had been a concern voiced early on by committee members to the developer’s attorneys.

While the developer was not required to save trees, Straits said the committee worked hard to ensure that an extensive landscaping plan, including dense buffer areas, was adopted. “Commerce Bank came back three times to address questions we came up with,” said Straits, who lives in the Northpoint district. “I think the developer went out of their way to come up with a plan that would provide an attractive buffer and address other issues.”

Arthur Hill, another Reston Planning and Zoning Committee member, remembers discussing the trees, pointing out that the Fairfax County Arborist had approved the plan. “If the Fairfax County Arborist believes that there isn’t anything worth saving, then that’s the way it goes,” said Hill.

POTENTIAL DEVELOPMENT on the site, which sits adjacent to several residential developments, has long been a sensitive issue among nearby neighbors.

Nearly a decade ago, Mobil had planned to build a service station, carwash and mini-mart on the lot. After hearing from a large neighborhood contingent dedicated to preserving the lot’s trees, the plan was scaled back. Part of the revised plan included an effort to transplant mature trees to the property’s periphery.

At the time, none of the current commercial development in the vicinity had been built, including Trader Joe’s, Bank of America or Silver Diner.

John Palatiello, the Hunter Mill planning commissioner at the time, recalled that there had been a modification to save trees when Mobil’s application had been reviewed. At the outset of the process, Palatiello also remembers naming a citizens’ task force to help gauge community concern.

Now, Palatiello can only wonder how all the trees were condemned.

“I went by over the weekend and there’s not a stick left,” he said. “I was personally shocked when I went by the site given how much time I and others had worked to plan that site and make sure there was going to be some preservation of trees.”

Guthrie’s not convinced that the proposed landscaping will make up for what’s been lost. “It will take 20 years to duplicate what they lost,” he said. “I feel chagrined on myself for not trying to defend [the trees.]”