ASF Question #2 on Management of Green Space/Stormwater for School Board Candidates - May 2020
APS as Environmental Steward
APS has done a commendable job in recent years in upgrading energy efficiency at existing schools and ensuring that new schools meet state-of-the-art clean and efficient energy standards through LEED certification and the like. Yet beyond school walls, APS has faced strong and, in the ASF view, justifiable criticism for:
(A) Stormwater management issues at the renewed Ashlawn Elementary School that caused damage and inconvenience to surrounding residents and neighborhood traffic hazards that took years and millions of extra dollars to correct. There is now concern at the new Reed School in Westover that, after APS first pledged enhanced stormwater management devices such as an underground detention pond to help mitigate Torreyson Run runoff issues during intense storms, APS may now be backing away and signaling that any such improvements will not be done by the target delivery time for the new school in the fall of 2021. Rather, we understand that APS may do this work a year or two later, causing newly-grassed athletic fields to be dug up once again, and at greater expense and disruption. What would you do to ensure that APS is part of the solution to a holistic County-wide approach to the increasing challenge of stormwater management?
(B) Precipitous or unauthorized tree destruction during the construction of the Ashlawn Elementary addition and in building the new Alice West Fleet Elementary School that have caused community alarm. Meanwhile, neglected tree maintenance and watering at Wakefield High School and other properties has required multiple replacements at great taxpayer expense. The Alice Fleet and Wakefield episodes occurred despite the fact that APS hired an arborist several years ago to avoid such problems.
What steps will you take to ensure that APS is a better steward of all of its grounds and, in particular, its trees?
Candidate Responses to Question #2
(A) Issues like these are precisely why I believe in a collaborative framework for governance. As demonstrated by the massive and devastating flooding last July, we have a critical gap in our stormwater planning and response systems. This issue is not a problem that can be resolved in a silo. We must work closely with the county to establish a flood and land use plan that uses the best data available that allows us to understand root flood causes, watershed carrying capacity, and the implications of climate change. Then, we must make decisions about construction and development that align with that plan and do not exacerbate the issues Arlington experienced last summer.
(B) In years past, I lived in urban environments essentially devoid of nature. After seven years of living in New York City and Las Vegas, I was determined to live somewhere where I could look outside my window and see trees. I chose to live in Arlington because it blends urban living with access to green spaces — and I strongly believe we must maintain this delicate balance as we grow. All public construction and maintenance projects should proceed in accordance with plans developed to account for the diverse perspectives of community stakeholders. Unauthorized tree destruction shouldn’t be tolerated and neither should careless negligence. I am ready to address these problems dynamically as they arise — with careful consideration of the impacts on our community.
As part of the Building Level Planning Committee (BLPC) for the Career Center expansion, bothof these topics were discussed. I’m using this example because it is the most current BLPCproject that APS is undergoing. Therefore, it gives an idea of where APS is in their planning nowthat they have been through the community conversations with the Reed School and Fleet.
The subject of cutting down trees came up on multiple occasions. First, there was a plan tokeep the largest and oldest tree on the property. Then, the design team talked about removingthe tree entirely. Finally, it was researched and found the tree was protected and the designconcept would require building around the tree and keeping it. All this to say that there is moreawareness to this issue than before. The experiences at Fleet and Wakefield have made APSmore aware of the tree issue and both APS and the design team staff are making a consciouseffort to discuss options in the community meetings. If elected, I will continue to make surethose discussions are taking place and that the benefits of keeping long-standing trees vs.plating new ones are explained. I support keeping mature trees and not paving over greenspace.
There were also discussions dedicated to stormwater management. We talked aboutvegetated roofs, pervious pavers, and bioretention as well as green space. While I am pleasedto see that we are discussing stormwater management and runoff, this was an overall conceptmeeting and did not go into detail, nor did it give solutions for the project. As a result, the BLPCasked questions about the site-specific issues that were going to be answered at the nextmeeting – Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit us shortly thereafter. We have not had a meeting since.We need to take a deeper dive into this issue, and I am hopeful that when we reconvene, we will have answers for that project. Looking at this issue from a county-wide perspective, we need to monitor the percentage of Arlington’s impervious surfaces year over year and make sure it is not growing at a rapid pace. As of 2018 it was at 43%. If I am elected, I will make sure this conversation is ongoing for all APS projects and in greater detail than what was brought forth in the BLPC for the Career Center.
(A) I would ensure that the Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations coordinate with the county’s stormwater management experts regarding all school construction projects. I would ensure that there is an updated APS policy on environmental stewardship that requires coordination with Arlington County on this, as well as require environmental impact studies I alluded to in # I. (B) above.
(B) I would request estimates from landscaping companies that incorporate stormwater best management practices and focus on sustainable ecological landscaping to benefit the environment. An example of such a company in Arlington is Deco Footprint. I would compare those estimates to what APS is currently paying for maintenance. I would implement a similar approach for our tree care.