Aging Reston Trees - Whose Problem Are They?

Tall trees toppling in storms highlight issue of tree pruning, removal and division of responsibility.

Twice this summer, decades-old trees in Reston were toppled by unusually high winds.

The blew through with winds at 73 miles per hour.sure felt like a tornado to residents on Scandia Circle and South Shore Road, who suffered huge property damage in the short but powerful storm.

Living in Reston means shaded patios and wooded lots. It means green space and estrictions on when and why you can cut down a tree on your property.

But as the lots age and the freak storms get more frequent, residents are asking - are toppling trees going to be a continued problem? And if so, whose responsibility is it? The large tree that severely damaged townhouses on Scandia Circle appears to have fallen from Bentana West Cluster property.

"In Bentana West, there's always a heated battle whenever a resident raises the issue of cluster tree care (or removal)," one resident commented on Patch. "I'm sure after this latest we're in for another heated round of discussion. It’s very easy to say 'we must keep every tree in Reston' when those trees aren’t falling on your house. Perhaps it’s time for both the RA and clusters to adopt a realistic plan to tree conservancy, rather than the current 'ignore it and wait till it falls' approach."

Says another reader: "A big part of the reason that I bought my home in the South Lakes area of Reston 26 years ago was because of the large trees all around the house. After all this time, though, these trees are 26 feet taller 26 years older and not all of them are doing so well.

"Neighbors on my street had a tree come down on their house during the Derecho  and I've had many limbs come down in these storms, though no property damage, thank heavens," he added. "Perhaps it's time to review Reston's policy of not allowing us to take big trees down around our homes. Some of them have lived their useful lives and need to go before they destroy ours."

Reston Association president Ken Knueven says resident concerns are understandable.

"These storms were fierce," he said. "Every time we get something like this, we expect concerns. One of our strengths is we are a community with a lot of trees. That's why a lot of people choose to live here. More times than not we hear concerns about us removing too many trees."

RA Parks Director Larry Butler says a treed lot comes with benefits - and responsibility.  

"Homeowners, or potential homeowners, choose a treed lot for multiple benefits – a choice they make, and one that should come with knowing or learning the responsibilities of owning a lot with trees," he said.

"Proper arboriculture would have tree owners get their trees assessed periodically for disease, cracks, abnormalities etc. and even some pruning to reduce the density of the canopy, thereby allowing more wind to pass through the tree.  This type of pruning may not prevent a tree from coming down – given the severity of the storm encountered, but it can help.

While even the healthiest tree might not be a match for a 75 mph wind, there are things homeowners and Reston Association can do to ensure tree safety.

"There is nothing that RA or anyone else can do to prevent tree failure in a tornado, violent thunderstorm or Derecho," says Claudia Thompson-Deahl, Reston Association Environmental Resource Manager and a certified arborist.

Thomson-Deal says RA staff regularly walks all of the open space and pathways checking for hazardous trees.  

If a tree is on RA common property, RA is responsible for it - even if it falls onto a home or other private property, she said. She suggests that clusters and individual homeowners also be proactive in caring for trees.

"Homeowners are responsible for their trees, " she said. "RA is responsible for trees on RA property and clusters are responsible for trees on cluster property. 

Homeowners can (and should) prune trees regularly so they are a healthy size. 

The rule on tree removal: Owners must obtain Design Review Board approval to remove any live ornamental tree (such as dogwood, holly, cherry, etc.) regardless of size or location. They must obtain DRB approval to remove any other large tree, either deciduous or evergreen, whose trunk measures 4 inches or greater in diameter (12 1/2 inches in circumference) when measured four feet above the ground, regardless of location.

More information can be found here:http://bit.ly/U4Ukz5

Knueven said RA arborists can visit homeowners and give advice, but they cannot do the work. RA also maintains a list of licensed arborists to call.

Keith A. September 12, 2012 at 03:10 PM
What I want to know is what can be done about trees that fall in RA areas. Unlike what the article says, the RA doesn't do anything about them. I live in a cluster SURROUNDED by RA property with old/dead trees that have fallen and landed on RA property, but are an eyesore to the cluster... A few of the trees are laying along the side of Reston Parkway (in plain view)
Judith Andersen September 12, 2012 at 03:31 PM
I live on South Shore Road, and suffered only some damage from large falling limbs. I am very lucky, because I am surrounded by enormous oaks, quite a few on my property and some on what may be Reston property, and I certainly have no cause to complain about a lack of trees. Two, however, make me anxious. They are very very close to my house, and will definitely cause extensive damage to my home should either one fall. They are both huge. I wish I could take these to down, and simply live with the other twenty or so which are on my property.
Orlina Tucker September 12, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Oh yeah....you only have to walk on the path behind Tall Oaks between the 2 North Shores to see how that RA cares for it's woodlands. As my husband loves to point out, there's another name for fallen, dead trees: kindling! It's not unusual (especially during hot, dry summers) for fires to start in the woods behind our house.
John Farrell September 12, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Ashburn, like Dulles Airport, is located on top of a prehistoric lake. The substrats are so hard that its is very hard to grow anything there. It took far more acres in Ashburn to grow enough fodder to keep a cow than around Reston or Purcellville. There are similar problem soils in Greenbriar where there are hardly any trees compared to Reston despite the two communities being of similar age.
John Farrell September 12, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Of the 21,000 dwelling unit in RA, only 4800 are single family detached homes. If every such single family lot owner took down 2 trees that were close enough to their home to threaten their families' lives (and, like me, many would chose to take the risk of the tree falling on their home), that would be less than 10,000 trees in a community of 3.5 million trees. Hardly enough to be noticed on satellite photography. I love trees. I have a life list. But I love my own species more. People have a right to be safe, and feel safe, on their own property. RA staff needs to get practical in its application of the tree removal guidelines. Too many lives are at stake for zealotry and inflexibility.


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