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Cut-down trees cause a stir in Woodley Park

Earlier this year in Ward 6, community members protested when they found out a developer planned to take down a century-old oak tree on I Street NW.
Earlier this year in Ward 6, community members protested when they found out a developer planned to take down a century-old oak tree on I Street NW. (Mark Abramson - The Washington Post)

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 8:05 PM

Tearing down 100-year-old oak and red cedar trees in a neighborhood named Woodley Park might seem like a bad idea.

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To many residents of the Northwest Washington neighborhood, it's downright despicable. Evil. Rotten.

So you can imagine how residents felt this spring when Chevy Chase-based developer Zuckerman Partners purchased a five-bedroom house and land at 2910 Garfield St. NW for nearly $1.4 million and split the land to build two 5,000-square-foot homes on the site.

Three 200-foot trees have been cut down.

"It's a tragedy," said Gwen Bole, 62, who lives near the property at the corner of 29th Place and Garfield Street NW. "The trees are what make Woodley Park what it is."

Neighbors have planted yard signs that read: "NO Subdividing! NO McMansions!" They've argued with construction workers and developers who started hauling away dismembered parts of the three trees this week. They have pleaded with elected officials, judges and zoning officials to stop the slaughter.

"People here care about their trees," said Anne-Marie Bairstow, Woodley Park's advisory neighborhood commissioner. "They've galvanized around this issue."

The Woodley Park Community Association fought the project, saying the plot is too small for two four-story mansions and argued that the homes wouldn't fit in with the rest of the modest brick three- and four-bedroom houses in the leafy community.

In August, a D.C. Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the developer, saying the company was within its rights to subdivide the property and clear the land. Zuckerman has agreed to pay $11,000 to the District's tree fund.

The yet-to-be-built houses are already on the market with asking prices of about $2 million and $2.3 million.

Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) said the developer has all the needed permits to continue with construction, leaving officials with their hands, or limbs, tied.

"I was hoping the residents could get some opportunity to express their extreme sadness about how these old trees that have been there forever are coming down," Cheh said. "I wasn't able to stop it."

Final rulings on the zoning appeals and public space committee hearings are set for next month.

Representatives from Zuckerman Partners did not respond to messages seeking comment.

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