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VPIS Enviromental Goals

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June 2009


      The City of Falls Church has a long record of forward-looking environmental programs and policies.  For the past thirty years, the Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) has promoted and supported strong programs to protect the environment in the City.  The City is recognized as a local leader in the implementation of strong and effective programs for a sustainable environment. 

Today, however, the quality of the environment in the City is at risk from causes as diverse as rapid development and a changing climate.  In order to maintain its position of leadership in addressing serious environmental problems, VPIS encourages the City of Falls Church to renew its commitment to strong environmental programs and make a concerted effort to expand environmental protection efforts in five key areas:

1)      Increase Tree Canopy:  The City should adopt a goal of restoring the tree canopy across the City.

2)      Increase Solid Waste Recycling:  The City should adopt a goal of increasing the percentage of the residential solid waste that is recycled and provide incentives for expanded recycling at commercial buildings. 

3)      Reduce Release of Greenhouse Gases Causing Global Warming:  The City should adopt goals of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases that are causing global warming from City operations and from the City overall. 

4)      Increase Green or "Pervious" Surfaces:  The City should adopt a goal of improving storm water management by increasing the amount of green or "pervious" surface across the City. 

5)      Promote Building Environmental Standards:  The City should require that large new commercial construction meet at least the "Silver" level in the Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program and adopt incentives for attainment of LEED ratings by existing commercial and residential buildings.   

These five goals for strengthening environmental sustainability are described in more detail below.  Each goal includes measurable baselines and performance targets for future years.  In addition, VPIS will take specific steps to promote both  the adoption of these goals and the implementation of policies and programs needed to assure their attainment.  

Attaining these five key environmental sustainability goals is essential to the long-term health of the environment in the City.  Meeting these goals will also demonstrate to neighboring communities that Falls Church is doing its part to meet the environmental challenges the region faces and is implementing a comprehensive and meaningful set of environmental policies and programs.  At the same time, these goals are attainable and affordable and are scaled to the resources and capabilities of the City.  

Finally, it is important to recognize that these five goals are mutually reinforcing and, together, form a fabric of protection for the environment.  For example, increasing tree canopy helps protect water quality by reducing storm water and erosion but also helps reduce emission of greenhouse gases that cause global warming.  Reducing impervious surfaces helps make a fuller tree canopy possible while protecting water quality.  LEED designed building use less energy and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce storm water runoff impacts.  Increasing recycling rates reduces litter and reduces greenhouse gases because recycled products require less energy to make than products that do not use recycled material. 

I)      Increase Tree Canopy 

GOAL:  Increase the percentage of the land area of the City that is tree canopy.  

Baseline:  2001; 25.2% tree canopy
Interim Goals: 25% tree canopy by 2012; 30% tree canopy by 2018
Goal: 40% tree canopy by 2025

The City of Falls Church is known for its commitment to diverse and healthy trees.  A study by American Forests found that 28 percent of the City (about 360 acres) was covered by tree canopy in 1992   These trees removed an estimated 36,233 pounds of air pollutants annually and stored about 15,462 tons of carbon dioxide that causes global warming.  But, a 2001 update of this assessment found that the percentage of tree canopy dropped to 25.2 percent or about 322 acres.  A tree canopy of 40% is considered necessary for a healthy watershed in a suburban area such as Falls Church.  

Reduction of tree canopy results in less shade, hotter temperatures, degraded wildlife habitat, increased storm water pollution, and more flooding.  A single 38 foot tree will hold rainwater and reduce storm water runoff by 290 gallons, reducing soil erosion and flooding, and protecting streams.  A recent report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments identified tree plantings as a critical step local communities can take to reduce greenhouse gases and mitigate the impacts of global warming.

Healthy trees also have social benefits for a community.   A recent study found that in areas with trees, people had reduced stress levels, crime rates were lower, and there were fewer domestic disputes.  Another study found that, in areas with more street trees and greenery, people perceive walking distances to be shorter, which makes cities more walkable.  

Trees also provide economic value.  A recent study found that people were willing to pay up to 12% more for products if the business district had large trees.  Not only that, they judged the merchants to be more helpful and the products to be of higher quality.   In addition, healthy trees can also add up to 20 percent to property values.

II)      Increase Percentage of Solid Waste that is Recycled 

GOAL:  Increase the percentage of residential waste that is recycled.  

Baseline: 53% of residential waste recycled in 2007              
Interim Goal: 56% of residential waste recycled by 2012        
Goal: 60% of residential waste recycled by 2015            

      The City of Falls Church has long been recognized as a pioneer in operation of effective solid waste recycling programs.  In 2007, the City of Falls Church recycled 53% of the solid waste that it collected from residential sites, the second highest rate in the State of Virginia.  The highest rate reported in Virginia was in the Town of Vinton which recycled 56% of its solid waste. 

      While the City's rate of recycling is an important achievement, many communities across the country have higher recycling rates or have set goals for higher rates.  For example, the City of Los Angles recycles 62 percent of its waste, San Francisco 69% and San Jose 61.  Seattle has set a goal of increasing its rate from 52% to 60% in 2010.  

      The City recently adopted new recycling procedures termed "single stream" in which all recyclable materials (e.g. paper, glass, and plastic) are managed together in a single box.  This approach simplifies recycled material storage and is expected to result in higher rates of recycling residential waste in the future.

      Increasing recycling rates has numerous advantages for the City.  Recycling generates a revenue stream for the City that helps pay for the City waste management program more generally.  Removing material from the waste stream not only reduces the cost of landfilling material that is not recycled, it also helps address climate change because recycling of materials uses much less energy than making products from virgin material.   In addition, recycling is a practical way for every City resident to be an active participant in protecting the environment.  

      The City should also expand efforts to encourage recycling at commercial buildings.  As a first step in this process, the City should develop baseline data concerning existing rates of recycling at commercial buildings, work with the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations representing local businesses to identify appropriate incentives to encourage expanded recycling from the baseline, and define strategies for implementing these incentives.  

III)      Climate Change  Reduce Release of Greenhouse Gases

GOAL:  Reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming from both City government operations and from the City as a whole. 

Baseline City Operations:  2005 TBD            Baseline City Overall: 2005 TBD
Interim City Operations Goal:      Interim City Overall Goal: 
Reduction from 2005 baseline by 2012      Reduction from 2005 baseline by 2012
Goal City Operations: 20% reduction             Goal City Overall: 20% reduction 
from baseline by 2020                        from baseline by 2020

      Global warming is now recognized as a significant threat to the planet.  Human activities resulting in the release of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" are causing air and water temperatures to rise, changing the amounts and intensity of rainfall, and causing a rise in sea levels.  

A warming planet will have serious impacts at both a global scale and more locally in the City of Falls Church.  Some of the expected impacts of global warming in northern Virginia are identified in the table below:

Northern Virginia Impacts      By 2030      By 2095
Temperature      +1.8 to 2.7      4.9 to 9.5
Precipitation      -1 to  +8      6 to 24
Sea Level Rise      4 to 12 inches      15 to 40 inches

Other projected impacts include:

      an increase of days over 100 degrees F from 3 to 30 by late century;
      stronger and more frequent heat waves; 
      heavier rainfall leading to increased water pollution and runoff;
      increased health risks including heat strokes, respiratory problems, asthma, and infectious diseases. 

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments published a major report on climate change in November 2008.  This report calls for local jurisdictions to participate in the effort to reduce energy use and reduce release of greenhouse gases.   The long-term, 2050 target is to reduce releases of greenhouse gases by 80% from the 2005 level.  The report proposes that, by 2012, local communities reduce greenhouse gas releases to the levels that occurred in 2005 and, by 2020, reduce greenhouse gas releases by 20 percent from the 2005 baseline.  

The City of Falls Church has established a Task Force to review the existing contribution of greenhouse gases from the operations of the City government and from the City overall.  The Task Force will recommend goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and specific strategies to accomplish these reductions.  The City Council is expected to consider the Task Force's recommendations.  

Until the Climate Change Task Force makes it recommendations, VPIS should support the Council of Governments' recommended goals and performance targets.  When the Task Force makes its recommendations, VPIS should consider adopting these more locally defined goals.  

IV)      Increase "Green" Pervious Surface to Reduce 
    Storm Water Runoff

GOAL:  Increase the percentage of "green" or "effective pervious" surface to 85% of the land area of the City. 

Baseline:  2001; 60% pervious surface  
Interim Goal: 65% effective pervious surface by 2015; 75% by 2020 
Goal: 85% effective pervious surface by 2025

      Rainfall is a good thing, but too much intense rainfall during a storm event is often a bad thing.  Runoff from storms can cause flooding of homes, damage to infrastructure, erosion of soil, degradation of wildlife habitat, and transport of pollutants to streams and downstream waterbodies, such as the Chesapeake Bay.  Intense storms often result in high velocity and high volume stream flows that scour biologically productive streambeds and destroy aquatic ecosystems.  

       The best way to reduce the damaging impacts of storm water runoff is to manage the land areas of the watersheds on which the rain falls so that water filters into soil and groundwater, is temporarily retained on site, or is taken up by trees and other vegetation.  As communities become more developed, the land area covered by impervious surfaces, such as roads, roofs, and driveways increases and the land area 
capable of infiltrating or retaining rainfall is decreased.  Most recent studies indicate that in watersheds where more than 15% of the land area is impervious surface, 
impacts on local stream ecosystems become significant.  Looked at another way, significant storm water impacts are expected when "green" or pervious surfaces are less than about 85% of land area. 

Unfortunately, many suburban areas, such as the City of Falls Church, have impervious surfaces that cover far more than 15% of land area.  In the City of Falls Church, impervious surfaces cover about 40% of the land area while about 60% of land area remains "green" and pervious.  As a result of this high percentage of impervious surfaces, the City is already experiencing a range of storm water impacts including flooding of homes and degradation of local streams.  

It is not practical to convert existing roads, roofs and other impervious surfaces back to green fields.  It is possible, however, to install storm water management practices that reduce the rate of runoff from a given land area, thereby creating "effective" pervious surface.  For example, the land area of a watershed might be 60% "green" or pervious and 40% impervious.  If storm water management measures, such as rain barrels, rain gardens, roadside infiltration beds, retention areas, and green roofs are installed, the cumulative effect of these practices can be estimated using engineering models.  With these practices in place, the watershed might function as if 85% of the land area were "green" or pervious surface.  

      The City of Falls Church should begin the process of developing and implementing storm water management practices in watersheds in the City that are designed to result in an "effective pervious surface" of at least 85%.   Implementation of storm water management practices by the City and private landowners will take time but will result in a gradual increase in the current 60% "effective pervious surface" in the City.  The City should adopt an interim goal of 65% effective pervious surface by 2015, 75% by 2020, and 85% by 2025.  

In addition, the City should include in zoning ordinance amendments, requirements to prevent new development projects from adding new impervious surfaces unless storm water management practices are implemented that are adequate to offset any resulting increase in runoff from the site.  This policy will prevent the creation of new storm water runoff problems while measures to increase the "effective imperviousness" of the existing watershed are being implemented. 

V)      Promote Building Environmental Standards

GOAL:  Require large, new commercial construction in the City to meet at least the "Silver" level in the Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program and adopt incentives for attainment of LEED ratings by existing commercial buildings and residential buildings.   

Baseline:  Several LEED rated buildings are completed or proposed in the City
Interim Goal:  Amend the City zoning ordinance to require LEED "Silver" for all large, new commercial construction (i.e. over 5,000 square feet)
Goal:  adopt incentives to provide that 5% of existing commercial and residential buildings in the City have a LEED rating by 2015 and 10% by 2020

There is a growing recognition that well designed commercial buildings play a critical role in promoting the environmental sustainability of local communities.  The many factors that make up an environmentally sustainable commercial building are identified in the national rating system called Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design or LEED.  Some of these factors include:

      reduced energy consumption;
      water conservation;
      improved storm water management;
      conservation and reuse of materials;
      location in proximity to transportation systems; and 
      protection of indoor air quality.  

Each of these factors is scored based on criteria and the overall score is totaled to determine and overall building rating such as "Certified," "Silver," or "Gold".

A commercial building meeting the minimum rating under the LEED standards contributes to the local environment by managing storm water, using less public water, and reducing greenhouse gases by requiring less energy for building operations and for transportation of building users.  These building often have superior aesthetics because they may include features such as green roofs.   Residents or tenants of the building also benefit from higher quality of indoor air, better exposure to sunlight, and lower energy and water utility rates. 
The City of Falls Church has recognized the value of LEED buildings for several years and has encouraged, but not required, some developers of new commercial buildings to meet LEED standards.  As a result of this policy, several new commercial buildings have achieved a LEED rating and several projects not yet constructed are expected to have LEED ratings.  At the same time, several developers of new, large commercial buildings have declined to attain a LEED rating. 

As a first step, the City should include in the new revisions to the zoning ordinance, a requirement that new, large (i.e. over 5,000 square feet) commercial buildings attain a LEED rating of at least "Silver".  The zoning ordinance amendments are expected to be completed in 2011. 

In addition, the City should adopt in the new zoning ordinance incentives to encourage owners of existing commercial and residential buildings to achieve an LEED rating.  Incentives might include small reductions in water and sewer rates, 

recognition on a City operated website, and potential for adjustments in other requirements of the zoning ordinance.  These incentives should be designed to result in at least 5% of the large, existing buildings in the City having a LEED rating by 2015 and 10% by 2020. 


      Defining measurable goals and performance targets for improving the sustainability of the Falls Church environment is an important step, but it is equally important to take concrete steps to develop and implement programs and policies that will attain these goals.  Making progress toward each of these goals will require major efforts from the City of Falls Church, local businesses, and the community.  

VPIS recognizes that it needs to play an active role in the design and implementation programs to attain of these goals.  Some of the key actions that VPIS will take to support and promote the attainment of the environmental sustainability goals include: 

1)      VPIS will support the goals through its actions and programs (e.g.; tree planting, development of gardens and green spaces);  

2)      VPIS will support changes to City plans, programs, and ordinances needed to attain goals (e.g.; zoning rewrite, development proffers);

3)      VPIS will educate Falls Church residents concerning the goals and how they can help attain them (e.g.; website, newsletter, and special events); 

4)      VPIS will encourage other City organizations (e.g.; League of Women Votes, Chamber of Commerce, Citizens for a Better City) to adopt or endorse some of all of these goals;  

5)      VPIS will monitor progress toward goals and report progress periodically; and 

6)      VPIS will review the goals and interim and final performance targets periodically and will consider amending goals and targets, or adding or deleting goals, as appropriate. 

By implementing these policies for a sustainable environment, the City of Falls Church will be significantly improving environmental conditions in the City and reaffirming its leadership role in protecting the environment. 


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Village Preservation and Improvement Society
P.O. Box 6824, Falls Church, Virginia 22040