A city-appointed task force is recommending tweaks to the controversial landscaping plan for the Washington Avenue mall.
The Little Gem magnolias planted next to two of the mall’s four monuments, for example, should be removed by the end of the year, chairwoman Jeanette Cadwallender, told the city’s Clean and Green Commission on Monday.
The Washington Avenue Mall Tree Task Force has been meeting since April to review 209 recommendations made by the public about the city’s landscaping plan for the mall. It also will present its recommendations to the city’s Parks, Recreation & Facilities Department on June 16, and give its final presentation to City Council on July 12.
Controversy over the landscaping plan began last November when several residents living on or near Washington Avenue began circulating a petition to halt tree plantings on the city-owned and maintained mall.
They said that they were upset by the number and types of trees that had been planted by the city, Tree Fredericksburg and others in the past few years. They also contended that the plantings were done without notifying current residents, will grow too large in some cases and eventually obstruct views of the mall’s monuments.
About 50 people who live on or near Washington Avenue signed the petition and it was presented to City Council. City officials then held a public hearing on Feb. 1, at which the current plan and the petitioners’ complaints were presented. About 200 people attended, and the majority said they favored the current plan.
When the task force looked over all the comments made at the hearing and to the city several weeks afterward, it found that 91 percent supported the city’s current landscaping plan for the mall. The plan was created by a 20-member committee that included city staff and arboriculture professionals, and was inspired by the City Beautiful Movement of urban planning, which envisions grand avenues and malls as settings for houses and monuments.
Four percent of comments about the plan, however, opposed it, while 3 percent favored slight modification and 2 percent recommended heavy modification, Dave King, the city’s assistant director of public works and a task force member, said prior to Monday’s meeting.
Besides removing the Little Gem magnolias, which are on the north sides of the statue of American Revolutionary War hero Hugh Mercer and the Thomas Jefferson Religious Freedom Monument, the task force recommendations are:
Have city staff re-evaluate the view of the Religious Freedom Monument after the magnolias are removed and make recommendations to the Clean and Green Commission for approval.
Plant two New Harmony elms and two red oaks planned for the southern end of the center median by the end of the year.
Postpone planting six red oaks and two New Harmony elms in the center median as shown on the current plan until existing trees in that area have died and been removed.
Leave all other existing tree plantings in place.
The task force also recommended that the city remove dead or dying trees and replace them with tree types in the plan and ensure that that all the trees are properly pruned to maintain sightlines to the mall’s four monuments. These include the Mary Washington and George Rogers Clark monuments.
The Clean and Green Commission also was given a copy of a plan created by two landscape architects who were hired by six opponents of the current plan. It calls for future plantings to be halted and some existing trees to be replanted at either end of the mall to open up sightlines to the monuments.
“In addition to the Washington Avenue mall trees, the task force recognizes that there have been concerns raised about the general process for approving tree plantings,” Cadwallender said.
The task force made a number of suggestions for improving the process. They include publishing an annual tree-planting schedule and inviting public review and comments, as well as creating a frequently asked questions section on the city website, fredericksburgva.gov, with tree-related information.