Tree Commission Urges Changes to Hilton Garden Inn Plan
By GINGER PINHOLSTER
Falls Church Times Staff
May 5, 2011
The Falls Church Tree Commission expressed concern April 27 about a developer’s plan to add an office building and modify a parking garage attached to the previously approved Hilton Garden Inn project.
Utilities on the development site, located at 706 West Broad Street, should be moved underground so that canopy trees can be planted along West Broad as well as Park Avenue, the Commission said.
Moreover, Commission Chair Larry Dorr added, street-scaping should be “fully implemented” on West Broad Street—from North Oak Street on the west side of the property, to the Burger King on the east.
“It’s incredibly important to introduce mature trees into this plan,” Dorr said.
City Arborist Ben Thompson said he has recommended landscaping to make the structure more compatible with other plantings and the scale of development along Park Avenue. He further had recommended plantings atop the proposed parking structure.
Thompson and Tree Commission members expressed concerns about whether the plan provided sufficient space for appropriate types of trees.
The Hilton Garden Inn development plan had received prior approval. But in March, developers Jefferson Park LLC and Gosnell-Palmer Holdings LLC submitted a special exception amendment and rezoning application to the City, asking to have part of the property rezoned from T-1 to B-1. The developers also requested to include a 5,439-square foot office building, while modifying the parking garage by adding an entrance from Park Avenue, in exchange for certain voluntary concessions.
All details related to the application can be found on the City’s Planning Division Web site.
As reported March 9 in the Falls Church Times, the project is expected to generate $568,000 in revenue for the City. The plan calls for a 110-room hotel and now also a two-story office building facing Park Avenue.
“From a Tree Commission perspective, it’s a flawed plan,” Dorr said.
The Tree Commission had unofficially examined the plan at their April 27 meeting. The group will be asked to submit formal comments soon, said Elizabeth Perry of the Falls Church Planning Division.
Trees Injured During Sidewalk Renovation
The Commission strongly decried the “unfortunate and unnecessary damage to City trees” that resulted from a sidewalk renovation project. All such projects must in future be supervised by the City Arborist before work begins, and contractors should be fully bonded to cover any tree damage, the group said.
Dorr questioned the City’s April 11 announcement that it was launching a city-wide sidewalk improvement project that same week to repair 516 locations with defects including cracks, heaves, and non-ADA-compliant pedestrian ramps. He pointed out that the proposal had never come to the attention of the Tree Commission, although the work clearly affects City trees.
Thompson, who is new to his position, said a grant proposal apparently was written before the City had replaced its arborist. He was brought into the project two weeks before the contractor was scheduled to begin work and reviewed approximately 24 sites where “tree conflicts” had been identified by city engineers. Of those 24 sites, Thompson said, he recommended the removal of only a handful of trees, most of which had already been “utility-pruned.” Thompson reported that he had recommended no renovations to a segment of sidewalk on Cherry Street where a large elm could potentially be damaged by the work.
Thompson showed the Tree Commission a large damaged segment of a cherry tree from Roosevelt Street. He said the tree was injured during the renovation project when the segment was “jack hammered out.” He said he had expressed strong concerns to the contractor.
Dorr said that contractors in such cases should be bonded for tree protection/preservation, and therefore responsible for any such damage to City trees. “We have an enormous investment in City trees,” he noted.
In a news release, the City said that “the project is fully funded by a $300,000 federal grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and is expected to be completed in November 2011.”
City staff had conducted a condition assessment of sidewalks along the main streets in December 2009, identifying approximately 33,250 square feet of sidewalk in need of replacement. Repairs will be limited to existing sidewalks on collector and arterial roads within the City, according to the news release, which noted that “the monies from this grant award cannot be used for other projects.”
Among other business, Dorr asked about the subdivision plan at Fulton Avenue and North Lee Street, where a giant tulip tree is likely doomed. Thompson noted that there is little the City can do, other than buying the property, which is obviously not feasible. As previously reported, the Tree Commission had passed a motion October 27, 2010 urging the City Council “to investigate all options” for saving the huge tulip tree, which measures 70- to 74 inches in diameter.