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Park Service Could Profit From Allowing Snyder To Clear His Land

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page A01

The National Park Service gave Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder permission to remove more than 130 mature trees from a hillside behind his Potomac estate in exchange for a possible share of the enhanced value he'll receive from his new river views, government documents show.

The agreement, the first of its kind negotiated by the Park Service in the Washington region, was completed over the objections of Montgomery County officials, who are investigating whether Snyder broke local forest conservation laws by cutting more than 130 mature trees on a slope beside the C&O Canal and the Potomac River.

Montgomery County officials say Daniel Snyder might have broken county law by cutting down more than 130 trees. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

Because it could take years for new trees to replenish the more than 30,000 square feet of deforested land, the agreement calls for an appraiser to inspect Snyder's $10 million estate and determine its value with the new view. At the same time, the Park Service will calculate the value of additional easement protections it received from Snyder along with the approximately 1,300 native saplings and small trees that he planted.

If the value of the enhanced view exceeds the value of what the Park Service gained in the deal, Snyder will donate the difference to the federal government, the documents show.

Lenn Harley, a real estate broker who was not involved in Snyder's purchase of the estate but is familiar with the Potomac area, estimated that a relatively unobstructed view of the river could add $500,000 to $1 million to the home's value.

The Park Service, which has a reputation for rigorous enforcement of laws that protect the woods along riverbanks, did not disclose the monetary arrangement when asked about the tree removal last December.

After a series of conflicting explanations -- including that Snyder cut the trees "by mistake" -- officials said he was allowed to cut down the trees because his property has been invaded by nonnative species, such as ailanthus and paulownia, that the Park Service has been trying to keep out of its forests.

When asked again this month, Kevin D. Brandt, superintendent of the C&O Canal National Historic Park, defended the agreement because it allowed the government to include a provision that bars Snyder, or any future owner of the estate, from cutting down trees closest to the canal.

"We gained the long-term enhancement of the park," said Brandt, who negotiated the deal with Snyder. "But most people don't enter into agreements where they lose, and I am sure that is the case with Mr. Snyder. . . . He gains some enhanced views from his property."

Park Service officials also said that other landowners along the Potomac might be able to strike the same deal. Joseph M. Lawler, regional director of the National Capital Region, said the government is willing to consider similar arrangements with property owners on a case-by-case basis.

"Our actions have not been hastily taken," he wrote in a January letter to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). "We believe it is in the best interests of the park to establish true protection of the vegetation and at the same time restore the health of the forest."

Van Hollen said he plans to look into the agreement.

"This really raises a lot of questions," he said. "We want to know if they have a uniform coherent policy or whether they are just making it up as they go."

Snyder's agreement with the government involves an 8.3-acre easement purchased by the Park Service in 1974 to serve as a wooded buffer between the estate and the park. It was one of about 190 such easements the government acquired in the 1970s to protect the canal. Snyder did not own the estate at the time. He purchased it from Queen Noor, widow of Jordan's King Hussein, in 2001 for $10 million.

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