100 come to ‘green’ meeting

Published 8:35 pm Monday, December 5, 2016

About 100 citizens interested in the city’s “green infrastructure” came out to a meeting at City Hall last Thursday to give their input on potential plans for the future.

“I think it’s exciting,” said Monette Harrell, one of the leaders of a group of citizens that applied for the grant — with the blessing of the city — to conduct the study on green infrastructure last year.

Thursday’s event allowed local residents to give input on topics ranging from recreational opportunities and how to create new natural areas to how much of the city’s land area should be covered by trees.

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Prior to the participatory part of the meeting, visitors heard a presentation by Karen Firehock, a University of Virginia professor and executive director of the Green Infrastructure Center.

Firehock outlined the many benefits of trees. They don’t just provide oxygen, she said.

“If you invest in trees, they will pay you back,” Firehock said. In shopping districts with many trees, shoppers shop longer and spend more money, she said. Homes near parks — particularly large, natural areas as opposed to small, urban parks or developed parks — tend to have a higher value.

“They are not a cost, they are an investment,” Firehock said. “There’s a difference.”

Trees also reduce runoff, improve your mood, speed healing of illness or injury, reduce crime and provide myriad other benefits, Firehock said.

During the workshop, citizens visited four stations and provided feedback on a number of areas. They placed dot stickers on the areas of their suggestion and placed suggestions on a list.

Suggestions in the recreation category, for instance, included a park with water access, new access to the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, a bike trail along Route 58 and more.

“I love nature,” said Kimberly Bnoforthchances, who was at the meeting. “I’m concerned it’s all going to disappear.”

Firehock said suggestions made at last week’s meeting will be considered by an advisory committee, which includes citizens and representatives of various interested groups as well as city employees. Those decided upon by the committee will be advanced for further consideration by the city. Projects under consideration will be delineated in the city’s planning system so that city planners can automatically see potential improvements, Firehock said.

Councilman Tim Johnson, the only City Council representative at the meeting, said he was enthusiastic about the number of citizens who showed up. He hopes the momentum can be used to plant more trees to control runoff, among other projects.