By Alexa Perlmutter
Two sizable street trees in front of a Connecticut Avenue apartment building in Chevy Chase have recently been found to be in distress, despite prior promises from a developer to maintain them.
Cafritz Enterprises opened the 10-story luxury apartment building at 5333 Connecticut Ave. NW in June 2016. As part of often-contentious discussions with residents and neighborhood leaders during the yearslong permitting process for the project, Cafritz secured approval to construct a circular driveway in front of the building, as long as it committed to preserving two red oaks, each 25 to 30 feet tall.
But local concerns about the project were renewed in May after Randy Speck, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3/4G (Chevy Chase), noticed while driving past that the trees appeared to be dying. He then requested a formal review from an arborist with the city’s Urban Forestry Division.
“I’m no expert, but it looked like these trees needed to be looked at,” Speck said. “And given our concern that dates back three years, I was anxious to have an expert look at them.”
The Urban Forestry Division is recommending the removal of both trees, though at the June 26 meeting of ANC 3/4G Speck said he thinks one might be salvageable. Urban Forestry’s experts concluded that “the extent of the disturbance to the root systems of both trees was too impactful,” according to Terry Owens, a spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Transportation.
Speck and other residents believe the circular driveway is the cause of the damage, as the entrance is less than five feet from one of the affected trees.
“We ultimately supported the circular drive,” said Speck, “but only if [Cafritz] would take extraordinary measures to save the trees.” Those measures included the use of permeable materials.
Owens told The Current that the agency evaluated Cafritz’s development plans at the time, but is unsure of “the extent to which the developer adhered to their submittal.”
Representatives of Cafritz did not return multiple requests for comment in time for publication.
Many neighboring residents value the natural barrier the trees provide in screening the adjacent towering apartments. More broadly, street trees along Connecticut Avenue separate residents from the noisy street and can help mitigate the effect of harsh streetlights.
In September 2015, the death of a large pin oak tree on Military Road adjacent to 5333 Connecticut Ave. NW prompted similar frustration from neighbors. Cafritz claimed that the tree was ailing before construction started, but the Urban Forestry Division is holding the developer responsible for replacing the tree, which is scheduled for removal. The developer will be responsible for follow-up care and maintenance through 2019, Owens said.
Now, with two more trees recommended for removal, Speck is concerned about “where we go from here.”
“Are these extraordinary measures going to be sufficient? Or should we just accept the fact that if we are going to install a driveway like that, it’s going to kill the trees?” Speck asked. “And that makes a difference in how the commission is going to approach issues like this in the future.”
Speck has invited representatives from Cafritz and Urban Forestry to attend a July 24 ANC 3/4G meeting to discuss the trees, in hopes of getting to the root of the problem and working toward a solution.