For the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, engaged in an effort to get more state road funds into the county, it came as a surprise last week to hear from a group of residents who do not want rural Rte. 621 widened.
But they don't, not if it means taking down a healthy, 100-year-old American elm tree on the west side of Rte. 621, about two-tenths of a mile south of Rte. 772.
Residents along Rte. 621 united with the Loudoun County Open Space Advisory Committee and others concerned about the future of Loudoun's trees last week to call upon the Board of Supervisors to appoint a tree commission or arborist to help protect trees and natural areas during road and development planning.
"This has been a rough year for trees in Loudoun County," said Fred Hetzel, president of the Preservation Society of Loudoun County. "There is no county authority with the responsibility of notifying the public on trees that should be saved, and it seems to us there should be an agency and standards established."
In a county where many people endure a grueling commute for the privilege of living in the countryside, trees are precious. And environmentalists in the county are increasingly concerned that without more protection Loudoun's oldest and most valuable trees may be lost in the tide of development sweeping in from the east.
"Trees are often not protected during the development process," said Stanwyn Shetler, chairman of the open space committee. "There should be a moratorium on logging during the rezoning process, and we need a tree ordinance and inventory of natural areas. The quality of life is perceptively reduced whenever we lose a large tree."
The board-appointed members of the committee said they have requested new protections for trees and natural areas partly in reaction to recent reports that developers are logging land being considered as sites for suburban developments.
The owners and developers of the massive Cameron Glen tract north of Rte. 7, whose rezoning application is pending before the county, have been logging their land for the past two years, according to Cameron Glen developers.
While landowners have every right to cut timber on their land, Loudoun County land use and environmental planner Richard Rein said clearing land for development is not allowed until grading and erosion control plans are approved by the county planning office.
"There's a fine line between what is logging and what is clearing," Rein said. "Legally they have every right to do what they are doing, but from a public relations standpoint, it's not such a good idea. A lot of people are upset."
Members of the open space committee claim the Cameron Glen developers are trying to take out the tall, mature trees that county officials might encourage them to preserve as part of the approval process for the 3,000 home development. Representatives from Cameron Glen contend they are following good logging practices and have removed only those trees that were in danger of falling down.
The open space committee has recommended that developers and the county jointly fund a survey of special areas and habitats and that it be involved in the county's planning process to see that some of those areas are protected.
"If we knew what we wanted to preserve, then we could prioritize the list and seek protections when they were threatened," Shetler said. "We might even ask the county to give developers density increases in exchange for preserving special areas."
Shetler said a survey could be done for $25,000 and he is hoping developers in the county will contribute money. Cameron Glen representatives said they would consider it and they would support the idea of density increases for developers willing to preserve open space.
"We have already preserved those areas in the Cameron Glen development," said Paul Goldberg, president of Sunrise Development Co. "We would be happy to get bonuses for them."
But it may be difficult for the open space committee to get any county funds for their proposed survey. While members of the Board of Supervisors said they were interested in the committee's concerns, some said privately they doubted the county could afford to spend taxpayers dollars on such a survey.
"We could have somebody in the county government watching everything in the wild, but it costs a lot of money to do that," Supervisor Andrew R. Bird III said. "I doubt seriously there is any way we would approve it."