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Saving Short Pump’s Famed Oak Tree

The fate of a cherished decades-old oak tree in the heart of Short Pump has some members of the community worried, as the construction of a new martial arts studio occurs directly in front of it.

Some citizens in the area have become attached to the tree,which is more 40 years old and has a trunk 48 inches in diameter, and are hoping the new development in the Downtown Short Pump shopping center won’t damage it.

“It’s a tree that we’ve all enjoyed for years,” said Glen Allen resident Joyce Major, one of many Short Pump residents who have viewed the tree as a landmark within the community. “The new development is blocking the tree from view so most people won’t be able to see it, and it just can’t be healthy for the tree."

The tree was known to former residents – and now many current residents in the area – as the “alligator tree,” mainly because its base resembles the head of an alligator and is admired for its nearly perfect symmetry.  

Master Cho’s Tae Kwon Do and Martial Arts, a 17,000-square-foot, two-story facility, is currently under construction on 0.77 acre between the tree and Pouncey Tract Road, near Bowl America. It's expected to open in the spring.

Despite the concerns of some in the community, Henrico County planning officials and the owner of the martial arts studio believe they've taken extra care to ensure the tree's longevity.

“We fought to keep the tree there,” said Three Chopt District Planning Commissioner Tommy Branin, whose district includes the site. The tree sits on land that has been owned by a local developer for 50 years. Officials from the planning commission met with the developer last year to request that the tree be saved, Branin said. The county previously had no official control over the fate of the tree because it was located on private property with no development conditions or restrictions that related to the tree.

Though the site already was zoned for commercial use, the Planning Commission had to approve a plan of development for the project. The commission negotiated proffers – development agreements – with the owners of the martial arts facility and their representatives in order to help save the tree from any possible harm during or after development, Branin said. Officials undertook other efforts, as well.

“An arborist came prior to construction and did tests and checked the health of the tree throughout the project,” Branin said. Safeguards have been put up around it for protection, and an arborist will return after construction is complete to check the status of the tree.

Henrico County Recreation and Parks director Karen Mier recommended in a letter to planning officials in August 2009 that the tree be protected, noting that it could be recommended for a heritage tree protection designation in the future.

“Developers have taken the proper precautions needed in order to protect the tree,” said David O’Kelly, assistant director of planning for the county.

Not everyone in Short Pump realized that the tree was being encroached upon by development.

“This is the first I’m hearing of it,” said Norwood Nuckols, the Association for the Preservation of Henrico Antiquities liaison for the Henrico County Historical Society Executive Board. “We would be concerned; we don’t want [anything] to happen" to the tree.

Alana Cho, owner of the martial arts studio, has planned to save the tree from the very beginning.

“We designed the building around the tree, and signs are up around it stating that it will not be harmed,” said Cho. The facility will have large windows built in all around the facility with views of the tree, according to Cho.

An orange flexible fence has gone up around the tree for protection while the construction is underway. When Cho purchased the property several years ago, there was nothing there but an empty parking lot, land and the tree.

“We didn’t want it to die so we’ve irrigated it all summer,” said Cho. Before settling on the Pouncey Tract location, Cho had looked at several other spaces including Town Center West and West Broad Village shopping centers but was turned down by developers.

“They were upset about the number of people that would be coming to our building with the amount of parking spaces available,” said Cho. She stressed that she’s happy people are concerned about the tree and indicated that protecting it was a key part of her decision to open a new location on the site.

Despite the precautions being taken to protect the special landmark, Major wondered what's to become of the region in the years ahead.

“Does development trump everything?” she asked.


Community

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Do the Bunny Hop over to Meadow Farm on Saturday for an introduction to all the farm animals there! An introduction to “Global Sounds” – featuring Japanese, Indonesian, West African, Indian, and Brazilian music and dance performances – can be found at the University of Richmond. The University of Richmond will also host the annual Spider spring game, as well as the inaugural Spiders Easter Egg Hunt. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

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Fairfield District Supervisor Frank J. Thornton will hold a constituent meeting Wednesday, April 30 to discuss small-area planning efforts in Henrico County and ways that residents can enhance their homes… Full text

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