A dispute over whether a 40-year-old elm tree on Lee Street in Old Town Alexandria should be cut down may be settled this week by City Manager Vola Lawson.

It is the first time in at least 10 years that a neighborhood battle over a tree has risen to the level of the city manager. "The significance of that tree and the importance the city places on preservation of trees in the city make this an important matter and that's why the city manager is deciding on it," said Tom Brannan, assistant city manager.

The problems began in the fall when James and Bonnye Manfredi decided to brick in their front yard to make a parking pad for their two-story brick town house at 728 S. Lee St.

The Manfredis asked the neighbors living on either side of them to sign a document saying they approved of the plan. The plan required the city to make a curb cut next to a 40-year-old American elm tree that stands on public property between the street and a sidewalk at the left side of the property.

"When we asked our neighbors for approval of the curb cut, we planned to keep the tree, but then the city staff told us the curb cut would cause major damage to the tree's roots and the tree would have to be cut down," Bonnye Manfredi said.

The Manfredis paid the city $2,000 for the planned curb cut and $850 for the planned tree removal. However, when their next-door neighbors, Betty Mattox and George Morgan, saw a large "X" painted on the tree in December, they demanded their signatures be withdrawn because they did not approve of the tree's removal.

"I don't want that beautiful tree cut down," said Mattox, whose family has owned the town house next to the Manfredis since 1945.

"We had gotten all of our proper permits before our neighbors ever started complaining," Bonnye Manfredi said.

Bonnye Manfredi said the tree "is not healthy and leaks some kind of sap. It's just awful and it's tearing up the sidewalk where the roots are."

Said city arborist Jennifer Hollings, "The tree is in very good health."

Lawson is expected to decide this week after conferring with Hollings, the city attorney and the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services.