Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Please Save Remnant Forest

To the Editor

The Carrier-Karig property, which bears the names of its former owners, is located on Seminary Road, across from the Episcopal Seminary and adjacent to Beth El Hebrew Congregation. The back portion of this 3.3-acre property consists of 1- 1½ acres of forested steep slopes and a spring fed wetland. According to Rod Simmons, the city’s natural resource manager, there are trees on these slopes which are 100-200 years old. It is contiguous to several acres of mature forest owned by Beth El, also featuring steep slopes and ravines. The city’s natural resource manager has also verified that the spring-fed wetland forms the headwaters of Strawberry Run, water which ultimately ends up in the Chesapeake Bay.

Along with other members of Beth El, I have spent hundreds of hours over the last few years working in Beth El’s forest to remove invasive species and encourage the regrowth of native understory trees and woodland flowers. In 2016, I noticed evidence of drilling for soil samples and tagging of trees on the Carrier-Karig property. I needed to know more about what the owner had in mind. What I discovered alarmed me. The planned development calls for razing the existing home which faces Seminary Road and for construction of four 5,000-6,000 sq. ft. new homes to be set in a row stretching from Seminary Road all the way back into the forested ravine. A new road will be needed to access these homes from Seminary Road. The most significant concern quickly became the fourth home, which was and still is to be constructed at the back end of the property on the steep and forested slope which sits directly above the spring fed wetland. The placement of this home is very unwise and all but ensures clear-cutting a significant portion of one of the few remnant mature forests left in the city. This plan also subjects the steep slopes to grading and filling, the construction of huge retaining walls, probable pile driving and the inevitable erosion. Given the high component of marine clay on these slopes, this intensive development will also cause probable slope failure which will harm the neighbors living adjacent to this property. And the placement of this home will most certainly degrade the water quality of Strawberry Run and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. Without the trees holding the soil in place, rainwater will carry silt from the slopes into the wetland and smother it.

The current plans call for funneling runoff into the city’s storm sewers, water that will contain pollutants from the roofs, sidewalks, lawns and roadways of this new development. The city is now taxing businesses and residents alike to generate the huge sums of money needed to improve the quality of water coming out of its storm sewers. The existing plan will only exacerbate this problem.

The goal is not to prevent development of the Carrier-Karig property, but instead to protect the forested slopes and wetland. By doing so, we will also help the city enforce its regulations which call for no further degradation of water quality, particularly where the water ultimately ends up in the Chesapeake Bay. Reasonable development of this property is inconsistent with four large homes, but if a fourth home must be built, the solution is to move that home off the slope and shift it 40-50 feet towards Seminary Road. The largest, oldest and most valuable trees are on the slopes and in the ravine and not on the level ground which is far more suitable to construction. The developer can take advantage of the existing landscape by locating the new homes so that they overlook those slopes. There is simply no need to destroy the forested slopes and ravine.

I have lived in Alexandria for 30 years. I am a homeowner and taxpayer. I have a stake in the environmental health of the city. I have a 10-year-old daughter. I want her to attend services and other activities at Beth El and then take a stroll through that lovely woodland. These woods are special. Not only do the trees absorb greenhouse gases and emit oxygen, but in spring migrating birds descend to feed and rest. In summer the trees and canopy create a cathedral-like environment. This forest is also home to local breeding species, like the beautiful towhee. Why not enrich the new home owners, as well as the neighborhood and the city by building away from the forested slopes and ravine? This will leave 1- 1½ acres or so of wooded slopes, which when combined with Beth El’s forest, will constitute a 3-4 acre refuge. What a lovely playground that forest could be for the children of the new homeowners. Maybe they will enjoy seeing the pileated woodpecker I have seen in those woods. It is a crow sized, spectacularly red-crested woodpecker which emits a raucous jungle-like call. The majesty of seeing such a bird calling and alighting on a huge tree in the ravine might be special for neighborhood children and adults alike. I also found an eastern box turtle in the woods near the wetland. These declining beautiful animals are also universally loved by children. I imagine there are very few left in Alexandria. There will be no pileated woodpeckers, box turtles or migrating warblers if the woods are clear-cut on the slopes and ravines to make space for the fourth home. What a travesty if this occurs when a feasible alternative exists. If the developer cannot see his way to eliminate that fourth home, the city should at least move it off the slope and about 40-50 feet closer to Seminary Road. And please run the new sewer line back to Seminary Road instead of downhill through the forest and vulnerable wetland. If this development can be tweaked to move the construction away from the environmentally sensitive features of the property, we will all benefit. If not, then once again humans will have traded what God and Mother Nature gave us for an engineered environment and we will be all the poorer for it.

This matter will be decided at a public hearing by a vote of City Council on Jan. 20.

Jeremy Flachs

Alexandria resident and board member, Beth El Hebrew Congregation.

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