A developer, angry at National Park Service "stalling," has cut down hundreds of trees bordering the George Washington Parkway south of National Airport where he plans a $300 million high-rise office complex taller than nearby Crystal City.
The park service yesterday called the sudden tree-cutting, which began earlier this week, "upsetting and irresponsible" and Alexandria officials, pointing to a city tree ordinance passed only three weeks ago, said they are considering bringing civil and criminal charges. A search warrant to inspect the site was issued shortly before dark yesterday.
The developer, Charles M. Fairchild, who has been seeking a govenment go-ahead for his proposed Potomac Center for years, said he cut the trees "because every year they get bigger and bigger and cost more to remove. I was asked for the firewood and [somebody] offered to do it for very little money."
Fairchild said he knew nothing of the tree statute, but Alexandria City Manager Douglas Harman said the clearing of such land by developers before the trees could be saved was "exactly why we passed the ordinance."
Harman said he was "disturbed to see the change in the landscape" near the parkway.
The clash between Fairchild and the Park Service centers on a grant of federal permission for an interchange and bridge over the parkway that would make access to the proposed center possible. Fairchild has leased a narrow strip of land - screened by trees until this week - between the Potomac Railroad Yard and the parkway as a potential building site, but has no site plan.
A spokesman for Park Sercice regional director or Jack Fish said yesterday that while the trees were not on federal land, the agency through it "upsetting and irresponsible" to destroy them all when "no construction is going to begin there for some time if at all." The trees screended the giant rail freight yards and their flood lights.
Park Service Director William Whalen recently sent Fairchild a letter announcing that the federal govenment will not consider any further proposals for a bridge interchange until Failchild has "a firm master plan" for the entire 40-acre plus site and all necessary federal, state and local approval needed to develop it.
Fairchild, who has developed several downtown Washington buildings, initially acquired access rights to the parkway in a 1970 land swap with the park service.
Under that agreement, Fairchild traded 28 acres of marshland he owned at Dyke Marsh just south of Alexandria on the parkway, for the right to build an "adequate" entrance off the parkway for his railroad-yard development.
The park service favored the exchange at the time, because Fairchild was threatening to dredge the marsh a wildlife conservation area and build a Palm Beach-type waterfront community there.
Many park service officials have since had second thoughts about the controveral exchange, however, and regional director Fish recently proposed that the park service buy out Fairchild's access rights to the parkway.
Fairchild said yesterday park service officials have offered him "many million . . . $5, 6, 7, 8" to buy back the access rights. Park service officials deny this and Whalen said in his letter last week "this recommendation has not been adopted."
Wlsaken reaffirmed that the park service is obligated to provide the parkway access but said Fairchild's plans for Potomac Carter are still vague and that no bridge-interchange design can be considered until its she and the number of cars that will use it are known."
Fairchild originally proposed parking for 4000 cars but recent estimates have ranged up to 18300 cars, the majority of them using the already crowded parkway.