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City Allows Businesses to Apply for Seasonal Street Tree Lighting Permits

CITY ARBORIST KATHERINE REICH said that after listening to feedback from City residents, the City decided to go with a different manner of decorating City trees with Christmas lights. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)
CITY ARBORIST KATHERINE REICH said that after listening to feedback from City residents, the City decided to go with a different manner of decorating City trees with Christmas lights. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)

When Katherine Reich started working in her position as Falls Church City’s Arborist last year, she told the News-Press emphatically that she was in favor of adorning the City’s trees in Christmas lights.

She followed through a few months after making that statement when the City’s downtown trees were lit up for the first time in decades.

Reich is now furthering her commitment to allowing City trees to be decorated by allowing businesses around Falls Church to apply for permits to hang lights on the trees around their stores that are on City property.

Right-of-way use permits for lighting City trees, for which there is no application fee, can be obtained from the Department of Public Works’ Urban Forestry division, located in City Hall, now through March 23, 2016.

The permitting process actually furthers another one of Reich’s stipulations for allowing lights to be hung on the City’s trees – she wants to make sure that hanging Christmas lights on the City’s trees does not affect the health of the trees.

“That’s why I wanted to require a permit,” Reich said. “We made the permits free because we want to be friendly and encourage people to interact with the trees. But we do need to put conditions on it so people don’t harm the trees.”

Reich said that the permitting process will allow the City to inspect the trees that are being decorated with lights to ensure that are not being harmed.

The right-of-way permit and the conditions under which the City’s trees may be decorated are available on the City’s Urban Forestry website.

Some of the stipulations for decorating City trees with lights include only using low-voltage decorative lights, such as LED lights, adhering to the City’s traffic requirements during installation and removal of the lights, installing lights in a manner that does not harm the trees. The stipulations also include specifications for how not to harm the tree while installing lights on it and the consequences for damaging the tree.

These include making sure lighting attachments to trees are loose to prevent bark damage and allow for branch sway during normal wind, making sure that all material used for attaching lights and wires are approved by the City Arborist before installation and a requirement for permit holders to loosen or remove and replace any parts of the tree-lighting system that are damaging the tree.

As of press time, Reich said that no businesses have applied for permits.

She said that she hopes that the official lighting of the City’s trees on the 100 and 200 block of W. Broad Street, which took place on Tuesday night, will encourage businesses to apply for permits.

Reich said that after receiving feedback from City residents and reading the feedback in the News-Press about the City’s decoration of the trees last year, the City decided to decorate the trees differently this year. She said the decoration job received mixed reviews, but instead of draping the lights over the tree branches, the lights have been wrapped around tree trunks this year.

“I actually kind of liked it. Someone described it as a ‘weepy starfish,’ but I still kind of liked it,” Reich said.

“Anyways, we were winging it. We were trying to learn as we went, you know, we hadn’t done this before….[This year] it looks very neat and very solid, so there will be a whole lot of light when we turn it on. So I think it’s a completely different approach and then with this year’s feedback we’ll see what we do next year.”

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